Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave has such a good cover, we bought it twice. Maybe that’s not true; maybe my pal Grant had given me a copy at some point in the past, and I’d forgotten about it. But, whatever the reason, we ended up with two copies right around when we figured out what we’d be watching for this Fall’s 31 Days of Horror, and into the running it went. We watched it as title 20 of the series.
Before I tell you about how it fared, check out that cover! It’s great! It’s got most of what you’d want in horror packaging: a scantily-dressed lady–a scantily-dressed lady with a skull head — holding an almost tasteful severed head. When I was a kid (much like Panos Cosmatos) I was fascinated by the jackets to the VHS horror films my parents wouldn’t let me watch. Because of my rather limited frame of reference, I often imagined them as more intense Scooby Doo episodes — lots of pursuit by monsters. When I was older and able to pursue such things myself, I realized that most weren’t like that (the closest I’ve gotten to that platonic childhood sense is Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse). Why am I sharing all of this? Because the jacket art to Evelyn is really great, and looks exactly like the sort of movie I’d like to watch.
Unfortuntely, the movie itself isn’t much to write home about.
To cut right to the chase, Evelyn in practice isn’t too far from Scooby Doo in the broadest strokes of its plot — I’m going to be spoiler-y here since I don’t think the reveals are all that shocking — we’re in territory that was well-explored, and better, by the likes of Dominique is Dead or, perhaps most exceptionally, by Henri Cluzot’s Les Diaboliques: a plot to frighten a lightweight into being scared to death. We get there in Evelyn by way of a by-the-numbers ’70s giallo, with all of the misogyny that entails.
In this case, the movie begins with our “hero,” the decadent and troubled Lord Alan Cunningham, bringing a comely redhead to his rotting Gothic estate somewhere outside of London. He takes her down to his torture chamber and tortures and kills her. Hey! Wow! Can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance! (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t) Seems sometime in the past, Lord Alan had a redhead — his late wife Evelyn — cheat on him, and he killed her for it. Now, he’s trapped in a terrible cycle of finding and killing more redheads to somehw assuage/amplify his guilt. Everyone in his life — his psychiatrist/childhood best friend, his playboy cousin, his crippled, very young aunt, his lawyer — knows he’s got this problem, and while they’re all troubled by it to varying degrees, the only one who seems to hold him at all accountable is Albert, the estate’s groundskeeper and Lord Alan’s brother-in-law. Albert is always there, watching Lord Alan’s murderous dalliances, sneeringly taking Lord Alan’s pay-offs to keep quiet. It seems only a matter of time before he gets his revenge…
Meanwhile, Aunt Agatha holds a seance to bring back Evelyn’s spirit — and it works! This is all too much for Alan. The doctor says he needs regularity in his life — he should consider marriage. Maybe that will let him work his issues out.
His cousin takes him to a fancy-dress party where Alan is immediately smitten by yet another redhead, whom he proposes to before they’ve even left. Everyone in Alan’s life takes this in stride; they think she’s awfully well-mannered indeed. That, i guess, is the only qualification that need be had to marry the lunatic patriarch.
Strange things start happening — the new wife discovers Evelyn isn’t in the family crypt, Albert is killed by a venomous snake by a mysterious assailant, Aunt Agatha gets up and walks without explanation, and then is killed and thrown to Alan’s pet foxes by a mysterious assailant… Some one, or some group of someones has something afoot, though damned if any of the pieces seem to fit together (Spoiler alert: they don’t).
This movie does have some wonderfully atmospheric locations and sets to play with — the aforementioned torture chamber and fancy-dress party both look stellar, as does the rotting family crypt and garedens around it. The fashions and hairstyles of both sexes are top-of-the-line mod/psychedelic, and reflect a vision of Swinging London that we here at Schlockwave find almost irresistably alluring. That’s not to say exactly that the movie looks good — the camera placements are a mess, and a series of bad decisions were made in the editong room that manage to squander what seems to be this movie’s only real resource. It’s hard to believe this movie was handled behind the camera by folks who’d made anything professionally before.
I’d say that’s a pity, but this movie left me awfully frustrated. Beyond the first act, we seem to have been meant to view Lord Alan sympathetically… which is awfully hard to do once he’s mercilessly killed a few redheads. When he’s driven to madness and death, I wasn’t sad at all to see him go. And, when his death turns out to be a ruse to expose the plot that had been cooked up by the new wife, one of the redheads we thought was dead (?), and the playboy cousin, I couldn’t have been more disappointed. Their “sins” pretty well pale in comparison to his… and in the reactionary logic of horror generally and giallo specifically, doesn’t that emminently qualify Lord Alan for a really juicy bit of narrative justice? Not here, it doesn’t.
So, should you run across a copy of The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, take a moment and drink in that cover art. It looks so good! But, you can safely skip watching it, not to mention buying it — let alone buying it twice.