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“The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave” (1971): Gothic and Giallo Elements Combine to Create a Satisfying Thriller

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For many people, the film The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (La Notte Che Evelyn Uscì dalla Tomba) (1971) conjures up images of disjointed, confusing, non-sensical cinema. This is likely because their primary exposure is through one of the multiple English-language versions of the film often shown by local late night horror hosts. This is a shame, as the unedited film is a quite well put together and satisfying thriller. Write/director Emilio Miraglia and his co-writers Massimo Felisatti and Fabio Pittorru have crafted a stunning, sexy, surprising, and groovy mashup of giallo and gothic genres. A wealthy British Lord has bouts of insanity, killing redheads that remind him of his late wife. The spells abate when he falls in love again and remarries, but he is still haunted by visions of his dead wife, and more gruesome murders follow. Gothic elements, such as haunted castles and ghostly wives, combine with giallo touches like creative camera angles and gruesome murders to provide fans of both genres a fun experience. Wrapping this together is a rather satisfying mystery that is much more coherent than the film’s reputation suggests.

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The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave follows British aristocrat Lord Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) as he tries to come to terms with the death of his beloved wife Evelyn. Alan finds solace in the arms of various women who, like his late wife, are stunning redheads and, unlike his late wife, are mostly prostitutes and strippers. These rendezvouses usually end with him inviting them back to his family’s rather rundown castle, and later, down to his dungeon for some BDSM play. Unfortunately, this triggers Alan’s fits, which include visions of Evelyn cheating on him followed by the impulse to murder the young women. These incidents are witnessed by Evelyn’s brother Albert (Roberto Maldera), who blackmails Alan and agrees to keep quiet. At a party thrown by his cousin Farley (Umberto Raho), Alan meets and falls in love with a strawberry blonde, Gladys (Marina Malfatti). The two are married, and Alan finally appears to be cured of his psychological troubles. All is not well, though. Strange goings on, including visions of Evelyn, seem to haunt the couple. Events go from disturbing to dangerous as members of Alan’s family meet grisly ends. Has Alan’s homicidal insanity returned, has Evelyn truly returned from the grave to seek revenge, or is something else afoot?

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For years, the main way most people have seen The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is in heavily edited versions shown on late night television. There are reportedly no fewer than nine different English language cuts, some so jumbled as to make almost no sense to the viewer. Even those cuts that do not rearrange the chronology of the scenes are hard to follow for all of their missing parts. This is a shame, as the unedited film flows quite well. The Arrow Video release of the film as part of their Killer Dames: Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia DVD/Blu-Ray set provides a beautifully restored full cut of the film, allowing viewers to experience it without the edits. Watching the unedited film, it is clear why the versions shown on television were so heavily cut as there are gruesome murders and torture as well as ample nudity throughout. There is quite a bit of nudity in the film, but it is handled tastefully and is often interwoven with important plot points. Even the slow-motion lovemaking scenes, of which there are a few, feel more passionate and sensual than usual exploitation fare. While the gorier parts of the murder scenes can be cut without damaging the narrative of the film, excising the nudity and more risque moments leaves the plot mostly unintelligible. Restoring these, as in the Arrow Video release, allows the film to flow as it is designed.

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One of the more interesting and unusual aspects of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is how the audience views Alan. Early in the film, while he is torturing and apparently murdering women during his fits, Alan is presented as the villain of the piece. This could have played almost like a werewolf film, where the protagonist is a reluctant murder. Instead, while Alan indeed is bothered by the crimes he commits during his periods of madness, he does not seem as wracked with guilt as one would expect. Instead, his effort to cure his fits seems more like he is trying to quit smoking instead of quitting murder. This not-quite-reluctant murderer role does not engender much sympathy. Later in the film, the audience is asked to empathize with him as he and his wife take on the role of victims. It is a little off putting and almost makes it seem like the first act was tacked on to pad the running time.

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Writer/director Miraglia uses both gothic and giallo elements in The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave to place it in squarely in both genres. The main story elements for the film are very much those of a gothic thriller; madness, a ghostly lost love, and family intrigue are all classic gothic tropes. Stylistically, it has the beautifully shot, cool camera angles often associated with the best giallos. Other giallo staples, such as lovingly staged gory murders and a mysterious gloved killer also make their appearance. Further adding to the genre-mashup feel, the action for the film takes place in sets that span the two genres. The Cunningham family castle is a classic gothic setting with its decaying facade and neglected gardens. No gothic castle is complete without a creepy family crypt and a torture chamber/dungeon, and the castle in the film comes complete with those. This is in contrast to the scenes taking place outside the castle in hip apartments and groovy nightclubs that are right at home in other early 1970’s giallos. The two worlds collide in Alan’s groovy bachelor pad inside the castle itself, with mod late 60’s/early 70’s furniture existing alongside antique tapestries; this eclectic look mirrors the combination of gothic and giallo elements in the rest of the film.

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With The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, writer/director Miraglia combines the elements of Italian giallo thrillers with the older tropes of gothic horror to great effect. Decrepit castles and spooky crypts combine with swinging singles pads and hip nightclubs. Gothic apparitions and bouts of madness are spiced up with the eroticism and style of early 1970’s giallo. The restored print from Arrow Video allows these seemingly disparate elements to flow and come together nicely, producing a satisfying cocktail of the two genres. If you have only seen the highly edited and chopped version of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, you should be sure to catch this fully restored version for a gothic / giallo treat.

The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Paul Cardullo
Paul Cardullo is a North Carolina indy filmmaker and horror fan. His tastes range from art-house horror to low-budget schlock to indie gems to Slovenia killer hillbilly flicks. When not watching films, he helps make them. From actor to boom operator to doughnut wrangler, he makes himself useful wherever he can. Paul believes it is sometimes necessary to suffer for one’s art. He has endured being covered in [censored], having [censored] thrown at him, and spending over a year with muttonchops and a 70’s-style mustache. When not being abused for the sake of his craft, Paul works on computers and watches as many obscure (and not so obscure) movies as he can fit in.
Paul Cardullo
Paul Cardullo is a North Carolina indy filmmaker and horror fan. His tastes range from art-house horror to low-budget schlock to indie gems to Slovenia killer hillbilly flicks. When not watching films, he helps make them. From actor to boom operator to doughnut wrangler, he makes himself useful wherever he can. Paul believes it is sometimes necessary to suffer for one’s art. He has endured being covered in [censored], having [censored] thrown at him, and spending over a year with muttonchops and a 70’s-style mustache. When not being abused for the sake of his craft, Paul works on computers and watches as many obscure (and not so obscure) movies as he can fit in.