By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Haydée Politoff, Silvia Monti, and Evelyn Stewart; Lucia Bosè, Espartaco Santoni, and Ewa Aulin
Directed by Tonino Cervi; Jorge Grau
Written by Tonino Cervi, Raoul Katz, and Antonio Troiso; Jorge Grau, Juan Tébar, and Sandro Continenza
This month, Mondo Macabro is very much in their wheelhouse, offering up two sensuous and seductive early ‘70s Euro-horror jewels in brand new 4K transfers that fans will go gaga over.
The first is Tonino Cervi’s famously tough-to-see QUEENS OF EVIL (1970). In this “gothic fairy tale for adults,” the princely, hippie-ish David (Raymond Lovelock, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) inadvertently causes the death of a buttoned-down motorist. Taking refuge in a deserted barn, he winds up in the clutches of three strange, ethereal sisters (Haydée Politoff, Silvia Monti, and Evelyn Stewart) who invite him to stay with them in their luxurious, mod villa. Initially, David thinks he has it made, but when amorous advances of the women and their strange, ritualistic behaviors begin to take a dark turn, the young man begins to wonder if they may have a nefarious purpose in store for him.
This French/Italian production feels cut from the same cloth as such gently erotic, high fashion Eurocult features as Corrado Farina’s Baba Yaga (1973) and the subgenre’s high-water mark, Harry Kümel’s immortal Daughters of Darkness (1971). There’s also an obvious giallo flavor, not only in its fetishization of fashion and aesthetics, but specifically in its contemporary focus on free-love versus traditional coupling and the corrupting influence of modernity. Indeed QUEENS OF EVIL would make a fascinating double with Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), a film similarly entranced/repulsed by hippie culture and sexual transgression.
Mondo Macabro’s disc is the film’s first-ever home video release in the U.S. and the first Blu-ray release worldwide. The 4K transfer from the film negative has its issues native to the source material (and a pre-film insert warns that some shots had to be included from a lower quality, standard definition source), but it’s an overall great piece of work. QUEENS OF EVIL has a hazy, dreamlike quality to begin with, and this transfer doesn’t overcorrect that and maintains its beautiful, film-like visual quality. Special features include an interview with Ray Lovelock, a commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan (film historians, Diabolique Magazine staff members, and the foremost experts on this era of European cult cinema), trailers and alternate sequences. The disc also comes with both English and Italian audio tracks.
Mondo Macabro’s second offering is BLOOD CEREMONY (a.k.a. The Legend of Blood Castle) Spanish director Jorge Grau’s (Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) rendering of the Elizabeth Báthory legend. A stunning Lucia Bosè stars as an ancestor of the infamous Hungarian noblewoman who, of course, is advised to remain young and beautiful forever by applying the blood of virgin women to her skin by her conniving, witchy nurse. The Countess enlists her cruel husband to acquire the red, sticky stuff and hide it by playing upon the local townsfolk’s superstitious fear of vampires, but this scheme may spell the end for them both.
A lavish period production in the Hammer Horror mold, CEREMONY OF BLOOD is actually a more dour and serious-minded affair than one would expect. The disgusting rituals and bizarre 19th practices surrounding disinterred corpses being “tried” for vampirism feel like something next-door to the grotesque, fanatical world of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971), and its mix of old world gothic opulence and bloody black magic make for an intoxicating brew. Countess Báthory films were extremely popular at the time (there’s Daughters of Darkness again) and continue to be, but CEREMONY OF BLOOD is inarguably one of the best and most entrancing. But be warned: there’s a hefty helping of unsimulated violence towards animals in this one.
Mondo Macabro presents CEREMONY OF BLOOD in a brand new 4K transfer from the original negative that’s virtually spotless, with zero print damage of note and excellent clarity. The disc boasts both the fully uncut international and alternate Spanish versions, with a healthy dose of special features, including two archival interviews with Gray, trailers, and two audio commentaries – one with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, and another from Robert Monell and Rod Barnett.
With killer 4K transfers and a fair amount of special features between them, both Mondo Macabro’s QUEENS OF EVIL and CEREMONY OF BLOOD are worthy additions to any Blu-ray collection. The films actually serve as solid companion pieces for those looking for something to while away a Saturday with, and though International Women’s Day has just passed us by, you can keep the female empowerment going strong with this double serving of lady-centric Eurocult entertainment.