The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

Rating: C

Dir: Emilio Miraglia
Star: Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Enzo Tarascio, Giacomo Rossi Stuart
a.k.a. La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba 

This very much goes along the same line as a number of the horror/thriller movies Hammer made in the sixties, in which a psychologically troubled person is steered gently (or not-so gently) towards insanity, by one or more people, usually for reasons of financial gain. In this case, the target is English aristocrat Lord Alan Cunningham (Steffen), whose sanity is on this ice after the death of his flame-haired wife, the titular Evelyn. He’s still obsessed with her e.g. there’s a big portrait of her hanging in his Italian castle. Alan hires hookers of similar appearance to play dubious and potentially lethal S/M games, for which his handyman is blackmailing him.

His cousin, George (Tarascio), suggests to Alan that getting married again would be the best thing for him. In London the lord meets and, after a whirlwind romance, is hitched to Gladys (Malfatti), who moves in to the Italian residence. It’s not long before the estate is being plagued by increasingly strange incidents, which eventually turn lethal, with Alan’s invalid aunt being found dead, in a pen of foxes. Alan is convinced that Evelyn is – yep! – coming out of the grave, in order to punish him for his treatment of her. As the paragraph above suggests though, there is a more prosaic explanation, and it’s really not hard at all to guess who is behind it all. Cui bono?

That isn’t quite enough for the movie, which throws not one but two additional twists into the final reel, leading up to a confrontation which might not stand up to scrutiny by any chemists in the audience. Not much of what happens before that makes much sense either: for example, given his strong predilection for redheads, why does Lord Cunningham fall so hard to Gladys, who is a blonde? But, hey, we’re in giallo territory here, a field where dubious plot elements are par for the course, and narrative coherence is much less important than how things look. It’s very much a genre defined by having “style over substance”, and Evelyn is no different. While Miraglia lacks the visual imagination of Dario Argento, this is never a bad-looking film.

What it lacks is characterization, though that may partly be a result of a fairly underwhelming dub. On the other hand, Lord Cunningham isn’t exactly likeable, especially from a modern perspective. Kidnapping and tormenting sex workers (top) isn’t a good way to build empathy for your protagonist, and he never comes off as sympathetic. Indeed, you could make a case that the estate and its residents would be better off in the hands of those who are trying to drive him insane. Cunningham being locked up, as he is at the beginning, might be better for society in general. Outside of a striptease by Erika Blanc, which begins with her climbing out of a coffin – now, that’s something you don’t see coming to the main stage every day – there’s likely not much here to stick in your mind.