The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/The Night She Arose from the Tomb/La Notte che Evelyn Usci dalla Tomba (1971) **Ĺ
Iím sure Iím in the minority here, but Iíve always liked movies without good guys. Most of the time, you see that sort of thing in gangster flicks, Reservoir Dogs being perhaps the ultimate example of the phenomenon. But once in a while, youíll stumble across a horror movie, too, in which absolutely every important character eventually turns out to be an utter shitheel. Emilio Miragliaís The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave/La Notte che Evelyn Usci dalla Tomba is such a film. By the time the credits roll, the only character who has yet to double-cross or sell out or exploit at least one of the others is an unfortunate hooker who dies ten minutes into the movie! If only it made any sense, it could have been one of my favorite Italian horror flicks of the early 70ís.
The movie begins with a man escaping from a mental hospital, scaling the walls as orderlies swarm after him intent on his recapture. The orderlies are fast, and the escapee, as a series of blurry, distorted POV shots reveal, is higher than Timothy Leary on whatever meds heís been prescribed. The attendants catch up to their quarry after a few minutes, and manhandle him back into the hospital.
But never you mind that, because nothing youíve just seen is connected very firmly to the real story; the whole scene serves only to clue us in early to the fact that Lord Alan Cunningham (Antonio De Steffe, from The Invincible Gladiators and about a thousand mostly minor spaghetti westerns) is off his rocker, while fooling us into believing that this is a much better directed movie than is actually the case. In fact, even that limited function is largely superfluous, because the very next scene establishes Sir Alanís nutjob credentials every bit as effectively. When we see him next (after God alone knows how much time has elapsed since his incarceration in the hospital), Sir Alan is in the process of hiring a prostitute for the evening. We know this hooker is in deep shit because halfway along the drive home, Alan pulls over on the pretext of smoking a cigarette and checking the tires on his car, and stealthily kicks off the license plates to reveal a second set beneath them. He then gets back in the car, and finishes the drive home to his huge old castle.
The hooker is a bit taken aback when she sees the inside of the castle, and with good reason. Count Dracula himself would balk at the idea of living in a place this dilapidated. But Sir Alan is paying her a tremendous amount of money, and his explanationó that he uses the castle so rarely that to keep more than a few rooms in good repair would be a tremendous waste of resourcesó is at least minimally plausible. The girl settles down once she gets inside her johnís living quarters, which are sumptuously appointed, in a tacky, early 70ís sort of way. The hooker strips down ostentatiously while we in the audience notice the vague resemblance she bears to the red-haired woman in a painting Sir Alan has prominently displayed in his room, and then at the lordís direction, she follows him into another room adjoining his. You might have known it would be a medieval dungeon, wouldnít you? Sir Alanís whore finds herself strapped down in short order, after which she is whipped, branded, and finally stabbed to death, with Alan ranting about somebody named Evelyn all the while.
The next day, the first hints of the back-story emerge. Sir Alanís groundskeeper, Albert (who canít be a very good groundskeeper, if the condition of the estate is any indication), comes up to Lord Cunningham in the garden, and mentions that he heard some funny things in the castle the night before. ďHeard some funny things,Ē indeed! The son of a bitch was spying on his boss all night! But Alan knows whatís good for him, and hands Albert £30 to shut him up. Over the course of this conversation, it is revealed that Evelyn was Sir Alanís wife, and that Albert was her brother. Cross referencing this information with the contents of Alanís earlier ranting, we conclude that Evelyn died under suspicious circumstances shortly after her husband caught her cheating on him. This, presumably, has more than a little bit to do with the manís current preoccupation with cutting up pretty redheads.
Now you might think that such a man would swiftly acquire a reputation among the red-haired hookers of England, but Alanís been covering his tracks. Not only does he have that little trick with the license plates, he also has an accomplice, in the form of his cousin, George (Rod Murdock). George is Sir Alanís next of kin, and stands to inherit his lands and titles in the event that he should die without issue, which seems a distinct possibility in light of Sir Alanís current troubles with women. George is also the man who introduces Alan to his red-haired companions, and he is about to do so again. He takes his cousin to a night club where an especially beautiful stripper named Susan (Erika Blanc, from The Devilís Nightmare and Mark of the Devil II) performs. (Her act begins with her emerging from a velvet-lined coffin!) By the end of the evening, Alan has hooked up with Susan, and offered her fully £1000 to spend the night with him.
What follows is a virtual replay of the previous scene, with the significant difference that Susan is sharp enough to escape from her bonds and flee Alanís dungeon. He chases her through the castle grounds in one of the two most skillfully handled scenes in the movie, until he corners her in a ruined chapel hidden in the woods. But before Alan (or indeed, we) can be certain that he has finished her off, he is overcome in mid-strangulation by vivid visions of Evelyn, and passes out. There is no sign of Susan, alive or dead, when he comes to in the morning.
But man cannot live on sex murders alone, and Sir Alan has other things going on in his life, too. He has maintained a close relationship with the psychiatrist from whose asylum he once tried to escape (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, from The Last Man on Earth and Kill, Baby... Kill!), and that doctor stops by to see him fairly frequently. Itís easy to see why Alan is still dangerously insane; his doctor canít seem to decide whether living as a recluse in a ruined castle is good for his patient or bad, and advises him in both directions over the course of the movie. Not only that, he canít even maintain a consistent position on such seemingly obvious bad influences as attempts to contact Evelynís spirit via sťance! Alanís Aunt Agatha (played by Joan C. Davis, an actress easily ten years younger than him), you see, has a friend who reckons herself a medium, and Agatha thinks it would be just what Alan needs to hear Evelyn herself tell him that itís time to get over her and move on. I really donít know what the filmmakers were thinking with this scene. The sťance is unexpectedly successful, and Evelyn does indeed manifest herself as a spectral image hovering above the table, but Alan has some kind of a seizure before she can say word one, and the subject of sťances and interdimensional contact is never raised again.
So itís back to the hunt for Alan. George brings him to some tawdry society party, at which he meets an incredibly beautiful girl named Gladys (Marina Malfatti, from Day of the Maniac and The Last Decameron). For no readily apparent reason, Alan asks her to marry him that very night, and in an equally baffling turn of events, Gladys agrees. Alan orders his lawyer to have the castle restored, and the whole Cunningham clanó Alan, Gladys, Aunt Agatha, Albert, and a gaggle of identical blonde maidsó move in the moment the work is completed.
It is at this point that I first exclaimed, ďOkayó What the fuck?!?!Ē Wasnít Alan, you know, running around killing people just a couple of scenes ago? And nowó what?ó he meets the right girl, and suddenly heís not merely psychologically okay but morally absolved, too?! Apparently so, and now itís his turn to be the victim of all manner of dirty dealing. First, someone sneaks into the castle, posing as a maid, and steals a 200-year-old silver service, although the fact that the thief was a redhead strongly suggests that avarice alone was not the motive, and that the burglary was just a cover story for something more insidious. In fact, between the break-in and the resumption of Alanís Evelyn hallucinations, itís enough to make Gladys think that the woman may not really be dead after all. Then, somebody with black gloves (itís always somebody with black gloves, isnít it?) starts prowling around making lethal mischief. On the night that Gladys goes to Evelynís tomb to make sure sheís really there (she isnít, but we know [or at least suspect] thatís because Alan secretly had her re-buried in the ruined chapel on his estate), the Black Gloves Guy sneaks up behind Albert with a poisonous snake, and buries him alive after the reptileís neurotoxins have rendered him incapable of putting up a fight. As an encore, Black Gloves clouts Aunt Agatha on the head with a brick, and then feeds her body to her pet foxes. (This second murder inexplicably cuts off what ought to have been a fascinating plot development. Until just moments before her death, Agatha has been confined to a motorized wheelchair, but when she hears Black Gloves sneaking around, she gets up out of it to go looking for him! Obviously, this is meant to convey that Agatha has secrets of her own, so would somebody please tell me why the fuck Miraglia would blithely kill her off scant minutes after the first hints at these secrets surface? And then conduct the rest of the movie as though Agatha had never existed in the first place?!)
And as if all that werenít enough, Gladys starts seeing Evelyn herself. One stormy night, the dead woman appears at Gladysís window while sheís getting ready for bed (and by the way, Gladys has the most amazing nightgowns, which somehow manage to be incredibly sexy and completely ridiculous at the same time), and Alan is there to see the apparition too. He goes chasing off after Evelyn, ultimately arriving at the chapel to which he had transferred her coffin. This is The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Graveís other really good scene. Inside the crypt, Alan first finds the stolen silver service (hmmm...), and then Evelyn, whoís looking awfully good for a woman who supposedly died years ago. Or at any rate, she looks great from the neck down; her face is little more than a skull, and so there can be little question but that she really is dead. But as Alan prepares to close up the crypt, he sees Evelyn open her eyes (in a shot that either pays tribute to or rips off Black Sunday/La Maschera del Demonio, depending on your mood) and sit up in her coffin. Alan goes into shock and collapses to the muddy ground, driven hopelessly insane again by the sight of the movieís title in action.
But wait! Rather than vanish from sight immediately, as you might expect, the risen Evelyn lingers on the chapel stoop for a few moments, and then turns around and walks off. The camera switches angles just in time to catch her lifting her hands to her bony face and peeling it away to reveal Gladys! And over the course of the following scenes, it is revealed that everything that has thus far transpired has all been part of an elaborate plot by George Cunningham to get his hands on Alanís title and fortune! But weíre not done yet. When George takes Gladys to his out-of-the-way vacation house to celebrate their success, he turns on her too. While Gladys sips poisoned champagne, who should appear from an adjacent room but Susan, Georgeís stripper friend whom Alan tried to kill way back in the first half-hour of the movie! Gladys may be half dead from her champagne, but sheís still got enough fight left in her to stick a knife into Susanís shoulder, and George (complete prick that he is) watches in amusement as the two women slice each other to pieces in one of the bloodiest movie catfights Iíve ever seen. After all, women are a lira a dozen to George, and with both of his accomplices dead, thereíll be nobody to rat him out in the future.
But weíre still not done. As George leaves the scene of the crime, he encounters Alan in his front yard! Evidently, Alan knew all along that George was plotting against him, and his relapse into insanity was a counter-plot intended to flush him out into the open so that he could be brought to justice. Justice in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave takes the form of a bag of nitric acid fertilizer, which Alan dumps into the swimming pool shortly before he wrestles his cousin into it. George thus has more pressing things on his mind than resisting arrest when Alanís psychiatrist and a bevy of policemen arrive on the scene to haul George away.
Itís no easier to follow on the screen, believe me, but itís all so demented that it becomes compelling in spite of itself. On the other hand, it should be borne in mind that my tolerance for goofball Italianate filmmaking has been raised to great heights by years of intensive exposure. I havenít yet gotten to the point that some fans do, where they no longer seem to notice that the movies donít make any sense, but the pervasive illogic of these things no longer bothers me the way it surely would someone whose only experience with Italian horror is with the comparatively sedate Zombie/Zombie 2/Zombie Flesh Eaters. And Iíd be lying if I denied that at least some of my appreciation for this movie stems from the fact that it features no fewer than three fantastic redheads (oh, alrightó two fantastic redheads and a fantastic strawberry blonde), all of whom spend a fair proportion of their screen time prancing around with their tops off. But I stand by my contention that Alanís pursuit of Susan from the dungeon to the crypt, and the ďresurrectionĒ of ďEvelynĒ are superbly crafted scenes, and there are a number of other brief flashes of directorial brilliance scattered amid the stumbling awkwardness that characterizes Miragliaís approach throughout most of the film. It may not be Art, but itís good enough for me.
One last word of warning before I take my leave of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave: There are two video versions of this movie out there, and one of them should be shunned like a mastiff with diarrhea. This review was written on the basis of the Something Weird Video edition, the production of which was overseen by Frank Hennenlotter, the director of Basket Case. Hennenlotter is a man who takes his schlock very seriously, and though the print from which the SWV edition was made is badly scratched up and rather washed out in places, it is at least complete from a content perspective, and the tape preserves the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, the edition youíre more likely to find at the video store is the recently released tape from VCI, which contains a 70ís-vintage TV edit of the film. (The same version also appears on Brentwoodís cut-rate DVD.) You know what that meansó no sex, no violence, no point.