A fairytale prologue sets the tone for another wild, stylish giallo from Emilio P. Miraglia. 1958, an ancient castle in Germany: an elderly aristocrat tells two little girls learn about an ancestral curse involving ‘the Red Queen’, a cloaked spectre who murders seven victims every hundred years. While good blonde Kitty plays with her doll, naughty brunette Evelyn admires a portrait of the killer queen. “Whenever I look at that picture I feel something in side.” The feuding sisters tussle amidst the opening credits. A scene less menacing than Miraglia intended, since the two little actresses visibly giggle away, clearly having a whale of a time play-fighting.
Fourteen years later, Kitty grows up to become everyone’s favourite Euro-bombshell, Barbara Bouchet, while evil Evelyn is nowhere to be found. It transpires Kitty is responsible for her sister’s accidental death, a crime covered up by her brother and his wife Franziska (Marina Malfatti) who store Evelyn’s rotting corpse in the cellar. A masked murderess in a scarlet cloak stalks the castle and literally scares Kitty’s grandfather to death. Kitty inherits the estate, but she is blackmailed by Evelyn’s drug-addled ex-boyfriend, who knows the truth behind her death. At her day job as a glamorous photographer at fashion house Springe, Kitty learns a sleazy executive was gorily murdered whilst curb-crawling for a threesome alongside his model girlfriend Lulu (Sybil Danning). Witnesses describe a red-cloaked witch with a hideous laugh, but a police inspector (Marino Mase) suspects Martin Hoffman (Ugo Paglai), Springe’s ambitious director. With his wife locked away in an insane asylum, Martin enjoys affairs with Kitty and Lulu, while legions of gorgeous models try to catch his eye. The murders continue, as Kitty (who must have seen Miraglia’s last movie) suspects Evelyn has come back from the grave.
Slower, less fantastical than The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971), Miraglia’s second giallo offers a more satisfyingly complex murder-mystery. Deliciously convoluted plotting reworks familiar ingredients: a creepy castle, a blonde heroine exploring cobwebbed corridors, feverish dream sequences, another lovely score from Bruno Nicolai and an undead menace named Evelyn. Allotted a bigger budget this time round, Miraglia maintains his sumptuous compositions and imaginative use of psychedelic light and shadow. After a meandering start, the pace picks up with the disturbing murders, accompanied by the Red Queen’s truly unsettling laughter. Blood flows freely, as the fashion industry provides a glamorous backdrop to backstabbings both figurative and literal. Sex has always been a key element of the giallo’s appeal. Here an abundance of scantily clad beauties appear onscreen seemingly every five minutes. It isn’t just the models. Amusingly, as with other Italian thrillers, every woman from the delivery girl and secretary to passers-by is a stunner, baring all before they’re summarily dispatched. The film mostly avoids the misogyny of lesser gialli, although Kitty’s rape is glossed over a little too easily. That said, in the immediate aftermath, Barbara Bouchet excels, taking time to reveal Kitty has been traumatized.
In an interview included on No Shame’s DVD, co-star Marino Mase reveals Bouchet was “the biggest star in Italian commercial cinema at the time. Her name alone could sell out theatres.” Bouchet essays another striking, confident, but guilt ridden heroine, garbed in some wild seventies outfits from designer Mila Schon. Marina Malfatti (Miraglia’s leading lady in The Night Evelyn Came Out…), Maria Pia Giancaro, and Sybil Danning all provide eye-catching turns - although Mase claims the future cult star of Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and many more didn’t exactly hit it off with la Bouchet. By contrast, Ugo Paglai makes a tepid leading man. Playing a frankly odious ‘hero’, it strains credibility that so many beautiful women would throw themselves at someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to This Is Spinal Tap/The Simpsons performer Harry Shearer. Paglai also sports a rather revealing dressing gown in one scene. Yecch.
Paired with The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, as No Shame’s Emilio Miraglia Killer Queen Box Set, which comes with a dinky, little Red Queen toy. Hey kids, traumatize your friends!