Sunday, 18 May 2014

Queens of Evil (1970) Tonino Cervi

A handsome hippy called David bikes the day away, through picturesque countryside, guitars and folksy wail, time fading to fog and forest and darkness. He comes across a older suited man by the roadside needing a tire change and the two have a free and frank exchange of views on life and society, then an unfortunate incident sends our hippy off to seek refuge, which he finds with three lovely ladies living in a house near a lake. Of course things aren't quite what they seem... 

On the face of it Queens of Evil is quite typical culture clash horror of the sort popular at the time, but there's an uncommon allure and wisdom to it that puts it way out in front of that sometimes trite pack. Nearmost everything here is attractive, house, inhabitants, surroundings. From the giant portrait photos on the living room wall, white couches, floor pillows of red and white and blue and green and one side full of yellow, to the stylishly impractical spray of cupboards on the kitchen wall, impeccable faces, fashionable wigs, rich cakes, attire of light and ease and colour and shine, the film understands the real seductive power of opulence, treating it with more than just the expected simplistic ironies. Light dappling through green forest top, clear expanse of lake, it's hard to imagine not wanting to spend time here as the film works upon the viewer much as poor David is spellbound himself. Wisely the spell is not just expedient, David is deeply flawed but realistically so, he rises above mere sap. Throughout his interactions with the sisters or other cast he is determined of his beliefs, yet just as determinedly he is contrasted with the poise of others, against this and their knowledge and standing he is shown as weak, as selfish and arrogant and a little sloppily childish. Not unlikeable but foolish, compelling anyhow. And the combination of character and place gives this an impact rather more interesting than the average hippies over their heads exploitation fuelled and crafted with nothing but cynicism. There's even underlying Biblical symbolism to dig into if you fancy, although underplayed enough to take or leave. 

Much of this comes across as erotically charged fantasy rather than horror, little real darkness in the first half. But by the simplicity of meaningful glances and edits that have time passing, things appearing and disappearing in the blink of an eye, mounting small oddities a pleasing atmosphere is woven. Many will be put off by the pace, it places the film in the more cultish realms of such as Pensione Paura or The House with the Laughing Windows, only shocking at the end. I didn't have any problem with the pace myself, finding it quite effortless. I was little put out by the absence of any notable nudity, something which might very much have contributed to the feel of sinister seduction, I also felt a use of chintzy lightning effects should have been left out and that the coda was drawn just a tad beyond optimal effectiveness. But generally this has and does exactly what I want from such a film, in fact I might even call it an era favourite after it's had a little more time to sit with me. So if you've made it to the end here and it sounds like your cup of tea, highly recommended.

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