Sunday, February 14, 2021

QUEENS OF EVIL (1970) (Mondo Macabro Blu-ray Review)


Label: Mondo Macabro
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 90 Minutes 
English and Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Tonino Cerri 
Cast: Haydee Politoff, Silvia Monti, Evelyn Stewart, Ray Lovelock

Queens of Evil (1970) is a wonderfully weird and witchy watch, opening with the handsome hippie biker played by Ray Lovelock (An Ideal Place To Kill) cruising a winding mountainside road when he happens upon a bourgeois gentleman (Gianni Santuccio) stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. David kindly stops to fix his flat all the while enduring a critique of the his counter-culture lifestyle by teh man. While David is distracted changing his tire the driver sticks a nail into his bike tire, apparently hoping to give the biker a flat. After the driver takes off David discovers the nail and chases after him on his bike looking to confront the man about the potentially fatal sabotage, but the driver ends up losing control of his Rolls Royce and slams into a tree, apparently dying. 

Looking not not be hassled by the authorities David chooses leave the main road for a dirt path that leads deeper into the forest, where he comes upon an empty shack. He beds down there for the night there, in the morning discovering that the shack sits on the property of a cottage owned by three sisters; the lovely Liv (Haydee Politoff, Count Dracula's Great Love), sexy Samantha (Silvia Monti, A Lizard in a Woman's Skin), and bewitching Bibiana (Evelyn Stewart,  Knife of Ice). The three women are stunning beauties each and they invite the handsome hippie to stay for awhile at their villa. From the outside the cottage appears rustic but the interior is very modern, adorned with art-deco and pop-art designs and styling, including wall-sized black and white portraits of each of the women in both the living room and bedrooms. 

Over the course of a few days and nights the biker enjoys the company of the women, decadently feasting on layered cake for breakfast, frolicking in the waters of a nearby lake, and being seduced by each of the women. It seems like a paradise, however, it soon becomes apparent that these women have ulterior motives to the seduction of the biker. David spies the women performing a secretive occult-ish ceremony in the forest at night, and later he follows an mysterious man into the woods only to be struck by a bolt of lighting! The women seem to be grooming the hippie for something, and when he is invited to a bourgeois party at a castle he finds that he is the center of attention, and for all the wrong reasons. All of this leading up to to a deliriously frenzied bit of bloodletting that I did not anticipate. 

The flick has surreal fairytale vibe that brought to mind Hansel & Gretel by way of The Devil's Nightmare (1970), with elements of the occult and folk-horror and plenty of take-a-bite-from-the-apple symbolism, mixed in with a cynical commentary about the counter-culture, all of  which I found very interesting. A lot of it wasn't all that well-defined or was open to interpretation, but I don't mind a bit of ambiguity and this is a film that does it deftly. 

I think that the film could be considered a tad chaste in terms of sexual content and gore for those looking those sort of thrills. It certainly lacks the gratuitous sleaze-factor that usually accompanies a film of this pedigree, but what we get in return is a witchy goodtime. The numerous sex scenes are feminine, seductive and tender, lacking a voyeuristic edge, which makes sense as the power dynamic leans in favor of the women not the man. The gore is almost non-existent for a large swath of the film, that is until we get to a wild scene of bloodshed that comes towards the end. It's actually quite shocking when it occurs as up until that point we have not seen much violence of any sort in the film. After the violence the film is topped-off with a wry wink and a nod that seems both a condemnation 
and celebration of both the hippie culture and the bourgeoise 
elite that brought a smile to my face. 

Audio/Video: Queens of Evil (1970) arrives on region A locked Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro with a brand new 4K transfer from the film negative with standard-definition inserts sourced from a lower quality that have been upscaled. Presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.85:1 widescreen the image generally looks decent, but not great. The main issue would seem to be the negative elements available don't appear to have been well preserved over the past fifty years. The film grain is course and depth and clarity are not ideal, the image is just thick and chunky and the fine detail suffers for it. That said this is the first time the film has received any sort of legitimate home video release here in the U.S. and is a worldwide debut on Blu-ray, which is a definite cause for celebration, this a wicked little film worth seeking out, even if the elements are not in pristine condition. Check out over sixty screenshots from the Blu-ray at the bottom of this review, some of which could be spoilery. 

Audio comes by way of both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English subtitles. The fact is that both options are dubbed so I opted for English language version, though I toggled between the that and the Italian option throughout. Both tracks sound appropriately vintage, but are clean and well-balanced, and the score from  Francesco Lavagnino (Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die!) sounds solid. The soundtrack also features a pair of songs performed by star Ray Lovelock, these include "Swimming" and the haunting opening title credit tune "We Love You Underground". 

Onto the extras, we begin with an energetic audio commentary from Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan of the terrific Daughters of Darkness podcast, the ladies of Eurocult lay on the love for this one, pointing out the satirical elements of it, it's various themes and undercurrent, the principle cast, and how difficult it was to come by this film for so long. We also get a 27-minute interview with star Ray Lovelock, who passed away in 2017. The star is sitting at a table in his kitchen smoking and talking about his life and career, how he got into acting, and his success through the years. Additionally we get a three-minute Italian trailer for the film with the title 'Il Delitto del Diavolo', plus a pair of alternate sequences that run about four-minutes in total. 

The single-disc release arrives in a stand keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original illustrated movie poster for the film. The disc is buttoned-up with a fourteen minute Mondo Macabro trailer reel. The film was previously issued by Mondo Macabro as a now sold out 2-disc limited edition version that featured a bonus DVD with a longer version of the same interview that appears on the Blu-ray, quite a bit longer at three hours plus! The limited edition release also featured a reversible sleeve of artwork, a set of lobby cards, a very cool-looking slipcover and a booklet with writing on the film by Roberto Curti, you have to act fast when those limited editions pop-up! 

Special Features:
- Interview with Ray Lovelock (27 min) 
- Audio commentary from Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan
- Trailer (3 min)
- Alternative Sequences (4 min) 
- Mondo Macabro Previews (14 min) 

Queens of Evil (1970) is a cool Gothic fairytale that spins a seductive web, it is stylish and artfully shot by cinematogrher Sergio D'Offizi (Cannibal Holocaust), and it is well-paced and delivers with elements of the occult and the late-sixties counter-culture. It's a flick that's I found a bit hard to pin down, defying my expectations but still delivering on all fronts. Another witchy slice of Euro-cult that gets a new lease on life from the always adventurous Mondo Macabro, I hope this finds a wider audience now that it is widely available, highly recommended.

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: