Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

Do most people actually have a favorite color?  I know mine seems to change each time the question comes up (which is not often, I grant you).  I mean, I can completely understand having a least favorite color (olive green aka puke, I’m looking at you), but do folks really have a color they absolutely can’t live without?  I suppose they must, since some people feel compelled to festoon their entire living space in one pigment (or slight variations in tone thereof) to the point of obnoxiousness.  I know, because I have worked in houses like that.  I have worked in a house where it was literally floor to ceiling white (we won’t get into additive and subtractive color theories here) with slight gold highlights.  My question would be why?  Why would you spend money decorating your house in a color which will get dirty the instant you breathe on it?  Never mind that it looks like a Kubrickian or Fuestian movie set, it’s completely impractical to me.  Between you, me, and the wall, I think this type of behavior reeks of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Granted, it’s not as harmful as skinning people, because everyone is only beautiful on the inside or running around in a red cape killing people, but it’s still damned odd, to my point of view.  You don’t have to agree.  But you know you do, right?

Kitty Wildenbrück is a young, pleasant girl who likes to play with her red-dress-wearing dolly.  Her precocious sister Evelyn enjoys tormenting her sibling, and steals said toy.  Intruding on Grandfather Tobias’s (Rudolf Schündler) study, the sisters scream at each other until Evelyn is mesmerized by a rather gruesome painting on the wall.  Suddenly, the diminutive brunette is seized with an uncontrollable rage, and she proceeds to stab the doll to pieces.  Naturally, this is a good time for Tobias to tell the daughters about the family curse, wherein the Black Queen kills the Red Queen, because she didn’t want to share her man.  The Red Queen later returns from the grave and proceeds to kill six people (wait for it…), with the Black Queen being the final one (…and there’s the seven).  This curse rears its head every hundred years and is due to occur again in about fourteen more.  Leap forward fourteen years, and the adult Kitty (Barbara Bouchet) is now a photographer with a successful German fashion company and boinking the openly adulterous Martin (Ugo Pagliai).  But soon Grandfather Tobias is found dead, and a woman matching Evelyn’s description is seen fleeing the castle (of course, he lives in a castle) wearing a red cape and laughing maniacally.  The Red Queen has claimed her first victim.

Emilio Miraglia’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (aka La Dama Rossa Uccide Sette Volte aka The Lady In Red Kills Seven Times aka Cry Of A Prostitute: Love Kills) bears a few non-significant but definitely noticeable similarities to his The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave released the prior year.  Both focus on characters obsessed with someone they believe to be dead.  The deceased are both named Evelyn.  The two films include characters who have been (and probably still should be) locked in an asylum.  They both involve a mystery which is both more and less unbelievable than one would suspect at first glance.  Taken by themselves, there’s nothing all that outstanding about these similarities.  They are all common facets in the Giallo subgenre (excepting the name Evelyn, obviously), and Miraglia certainly knows his way around them.  However, what struck me the most in this film is how the subgenre’s devices are used in a dual capacity.

When we think of duality in film, we expect to be presented with double images as a visual metaphor.  Things like mirrors, reflections, and so forth are typical for this type of motif.  Miraglia doesn’t go that route, though, and I think that’s wise, because it is a practice which can just as easily tip its hand and give away all of the story’s surprises (Gialli being films difficult to second guess to begin with).  Doubles are things which can work better as a theme than as a story element.  It’s all in the user.

The main binary idea behind the film, to my mind, is in a juxtaposition of reality (or cinematic reality, at least) and artifice.  It starts in the very first sequence.  Evelyn steals her sister’s doll, and because of the influence of the painting of the Black Queen stabbing the Red Queen (kind of odd in the grand scheme of the plot, but still…), she starts stabbing the doll with the negligently placed (family?) dagger.  Already the folkloric world has infiltrated the real world.  Tobias believes in a family curse to an absurd degree, and he even allows this belief to govern his life and decisions.  The Red Queen is a story come to life, literally enacting a fantasy which is difficult to put any credence in if we accept that this film is set in the “real” world.  Using montage rather than any clever compositions, the filmmaker creates a dichotomy between verity and fiction.  

Miraglia contrasts the fictive tale of the Red Queen and her exploits against the concrete world of Inspector Toller (Marino Masé) and his quest to find the killer in his jurisdiction.  The scenes involving Toller and the police serve two purposes (duality again).  First, they are exposition to give the audience background information on characters, primarily, but they also serve to give a procedural perspective on the case.  Never mind that the police are as ineffective here as they are in almost every Giallo ever filmed.  Second, they provide a sense of verisimilitude to the goings-on which are ludicrous on their face.  In my opinion, they also serve to kill the film’s pacing (a third, most assuredly unintended, purpose).  In the police scenes, we are in a world of dreary brick walls and hard, flat lighting, just like the world we actually live in.  Contrast this with the scenes involving the Red Queen, which are stylishly lit and choreographed and normally take place away from any semblance of civilization (if you’ll notice, a large portion of these scenes occur in castles, villas, parks, and empty streets).  In some ways, it is problematic to determine which side the filmmaker favors (that’s not to say that he has to favor one over the other).  After all, the plot revolves around murders caused by a character who shouldn’t exist, and we know that there is no way the final explanation can be anything other than mundane.  Yet, like great Gialli, not only is the explanation banausic but it also contains several preposterous aspects, so that even when the last shot disappears from the screen, we’re still left with the struggle between real and imaginary, film and life, presentation and representation.  We decide.

MVT:  The most valuable thing for me is the mystery aspect of the story.  One of the most enjoyable things about Gialli is in trying to play along and unravel the mystery before the other characters do.  It is usually a hopeless pursuit, as there will be so many twists and turns and revelations so far out of left field, you tend to accept them more because of their lunacy rather than in spite of it.

Make Or Break:  The Make is the dream sequence that appears about halfway through the film.  It marries real and unreal in the same shots, summing up the film neatly.  It is also the most stylishly directed portion of the film in my opinion, and puts Miraglia’s skills behind the camera front and center.

Score:  6.75/10

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