8 ½ DOORS OF DEATH PRESENTS (ITS FINAL COLUMN!)
THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972)
Review by Jerome Reuter
SYNOPSIS: Fashion photographer Kitty Wildenbruck (the great Barbara Bouchet) is a woman with a secret. After years of being tormented by her sister Evelyn, she accidentally kills her during a fight. As children, they learned of the mysterious Red Queen, who returns every 100 years to unleash a string of murders. When her grandfather dies, Kitty and her other sister Francesca are set to inherit the family estate. Soon the legend comes to life, and a woman in a red cloak begins to murder those close to Kitty.
There are two clichés that come to mind when I think of giallo: the portrait, and the color red. The latter is understandable, considering the genre’s tumultuous relationship with sex and death. The portrait on the other hand, seems to have an interesting relationship with the Italian horror film. It serves as a centerpiece for establishing both family history and trauma. Both BLACK SUNDAY (1960) and YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED DOOR AND ONLY I HAVE THEY KEY (1972) utilize this trope to help provide backstory. In the case of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), the portrait is used as a triggering mechanism.
One entry to utilize both of these elements is Emilio Miraglia’s THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972). Using the portrait to establish a family legend in the first act, it introduces the audience to both intrigue and speculation. Throughout the film’s entirety, Miraglia demonstrates his ability to weave between pseudo-gothic horror and the crime thriller. Aside from family history, there’s plenty of lampooning of the upper-class and the aristocracy. As with other films from the time period, they’re depicted as people who can’t exist without scandal and turmoil.
The greatest aspect of the film is undoubtedly the Red Queen herself. From her first appearance, the viewing audience is forced to speculate her identity. On one hand, she might be a ghost—implying that the legend is true. (The resurgence of a female malevolent force echoes Antonio Margheriti’s THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH, 1964). On the other, it raises doubts as to whether or not Evelyn is really dead, or an imposter is at work. As with any crime thriller, there’s always the preconception that the killer is amongst the cast of characters found in the story. Miraglia plays with that notion. Forcing our speculation on the events in further detail, the gender of the Red Queen even comes into play, with one character even explaining to the police “I don’t have a habit of going around in drag.” More than once, giallo has examined transgressive sexuality, so it’s a possibility that makes itself known.
Aside from its gothic themes, there’s plenty of material that’s part and parcel of a standard giallo. Like others, it includes the world of fashion and photography as a sub-plot. While there’s no denying the blade in a lot of Giallo films acts as a phallic extension, there’s another symbol of male dominance that sometimes gets overlooked—the camera. When one comes right to it—the camera is the ultimate tool of voyeurism. More often than not, a setup involving the fashion world features male photographers. In the case of Kitty, it’s a very interesting case of gender reversal. Kitty exudes both competence at her profession and assertiveness with her subjects and co-workers.
Aside from the suspense-filled storytelling, THE RED QUEEN’s presentation and form are equally impressive. Cinematographer Alberto Spagnoli demonstrates talent with color and intensely-focused shot composition. Some of the more memorable features include a dream sequence in which the Red Queen is seen tearing down a log corridor, and kaleidoscopic photography that gives one of Kitty’s photo shoots a unique feel. Contrasting with the stylistic imagery is a soundtrack composed by Bruno Nicolai, whose talents for accentuating mood are consistent throughout.
While THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES might not be the greatest giallo entry of all time, it’s essential viewing and wildly entertaining. Miraglia wouldn’t make any more giallo films after this entry, which is somewhat of a shame. He might have become a strong contender in the genre had he stayed the course.
© Copyright 2017 by Jerome Reuter