David (Raymond Lovelock; Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
and Oasis of Fear
) is a hippie biker cruising along a coastal country road who comes across a Rolls Royce with a flat tire. David replaces the tire while enduring an ultra-conservative lecture from its bourgeois owner who ridicules David’s hippie values which the Rolls Royce driver is certain will fall by the wayside when he meets a beautiful woman (“Who are you, some kind of ‘Love Guru’,” asks David). David finds his good deed rewarded with a nail in his tire as the Rolls Royce drives off. David pursues the Rolls Royce and causes it to crash into a tree. None of the cars he hails will stop for a dirty, no-good hippy. Seeing a police siren in the distance, David flees the scene on his bike; turning off onto a dirt road. He comes across a locked up fairytale cottage and decides to sleep in the woodshed for the night.
The next morning, he is discovered by Liv (Haydée Politoff; La Collectioneuse and Count Dracula's Great Love)and her two older sisters Bibiana (Evelyn Stewart; Murder Manshion and Whip and the Body) and Samantha (Silvia Monti; The Fifth Cord and Lizard in a Woman's Skin) who invite him into their storybook cottage which is decorated with ceiling high black and white portraits of each of the women (which also adorn their bedrooms) and sixties bachelor-pad décor and feed him multi-tiered cakes for breakfast. They take a boat out onto the center of the lake where the fish meet every day at noon to be caught in their nets. They take him out into the woods and show him a castle (the villa from Slaughter Hotel and Girl in Room 2A) that – legend has it – is under a spell and if two lovers manage to spend the night there, nothing can separate them. They also offer him an apple from the sole apple tree in the forest.
Things start to get sinister when he discovers Bibiana’s hobby of stuffing animals – to stop time – and Samantha takes off on his motorcycle. He chases her through the forest and she becomes his first conquest. After dinner (for which he has bathed, shave, and cut his hair – the first of his compromises), he follows the women into the woods and sees them performing a ritual around a bonfire which Bibiana tells him is the “ritual of the virgin.” Bibiana is his second conquest. Afterwards, he wakes and overhears the women talking to an unseen man leaving instructions for them. He follows the man into the woods and is struck by lightning in a sudden storm. This leads him into a foggy, soft-focus dream sequence in which Bibiana has eyes on her breasts (the UK VHS cover image) and he is shot by a gun held by a hand from between Liv’s legs as she sits on a silver throne.
He wakes up in the woodshed where the girls have taken him after finding him in the woods. They tell him their late night visitor was the owner of the castle who has invited them for a party. They convince him to stay since the party is in Liv’s honor (and he has yet to seduce her). He attends the party with them; a black tie affair in which he is underdressed in his hippy duds and treated like a curiosity. He is on the verge of leaving when he runs into Liv who takes him to a bedroom where they make love. Having spent the night in the castle, Liv reminds him that now nothing can separate them. He concedes to the three women that they have succeeded in possessing him and he gives up his freedom but he is completely unprepared for the unexpectedly violent consequences of renouncing his values.
Director Tonino Cervi also produced Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert, Riccardo Freda’s Trapped in Tangiers, and Gianfranco Giagni’s intriguing eighties Italian horror Spider Labyrinth as well as directed the western Today It's Me, Tomorrow You written by Dario Argento. Cervi’s direction is strong and he assembled formidable talent in front of and behind the camera. Actor/singer Ray Lovelock (who used to be in a band with fellow actor Tomas Milian) composed and performed the opening/end title song “I Love You Underground” and the wordless vocal “Swimming” and is engaging as the hippy hero. Haydée Politoff was largely known for her role in Eric Rohmer’s La Collectioneuse (like her co-stars in that film, she wrote her own dialogue) and not only manages to look different each film I’ve seen her in but manages to look different in various scenes thanks to Aldo Coppola’s wigs and Jean Bouquin’s gowns.
The same goes for Silvia Monti – Jean Sorel’s mistress in Lizard in a Woman's Skin – and Evelyn Stewart (aka Ida Galli) – she of the sculpted cheekbones – who was a fixture in Italian cinema as a debutante in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita all the way through to a rather thankless role as a psychotic mother in the dire Arabella, L’Angelo Nero (1988). Angelo Francesco Lavegnino’s score moves between lush orchestral cues – including a From Here to Eternity-type love-on-the-beach sequence and funky treatments of “Dies Irae.” Sergio D’Offizi’s cinematography is not as stylish as his Techniscope work for Lucio Fulci in Don't Torture A Duckling but it doesn’t have to be given the mod costumes and the set design he manages attractive composition after attractive composition with the typical 70’s zooming and focus pulling fits Lovelock’s and the audience’s bewildered experience of the women and the setting.
Cervi’s behind-the-times yet idealistic view of hippy culture and the sixties is also apparent in that much of the film’s other wardrobe is credited simply to “Carnaby Street” rather than any particular retailer (perhaps the filmmakers just scoured the various shops in their search for what mod fashions are without documenting what came from where). These elite are figuratively portrayed as agents of the devil. They are manipulators of trends, corporations, material products who refer to themselves as persuaders. It goes without saying that the driver of the Rolls Royce is the devil. The hippies they seek to destroy are seen as a threat because they erode notions of sin, vice, and acquisition. The middle ground is represented by the truck drivers who refuse to stop at the accident scene because they judge David to be a no-good hippy. The three women, who change hairstyles (and wigs) and Jean Bouquin gowns in nearly every scene, not only represent both liberal ideas of free love and bourgeois obsession with fashion, beauty, and preserving youth, but also reveal a contradiction in David’s views as he seduces all of them but is uncomfortable with them confiding in one another.
He is also not entirely convincing when asked how he would feel if he found one of them in bed with another man (after he tells them that being faithful to one woman would mean being unfaithful to all others). Birds also have a symbolic meaning in the film. The free-flying seagull seen throughout seems to represent David’s values while the perched owl seems to signify a sinister watchful presence not unlike the ones that watch David’s conquest of the virginal Liv which prove to be the eyes of “those who count” who see sex as a sin and derive pleasure from that. The subtitle of the original Italian title is “A Thrilling Fable” and it is an adult fairytale with a moral about holding to one's values and the consequences of succumbing to temptation. It is one of the few leftist films of this nature which makes it all the more interesting and gratifying in spite of the downbeat ending.
Queens of Evil (not to be confused with Queen of Evil, the British release title for Oliver Stone’s Seizure) has been largely available on the grey-market converted from a PAL VHS from the long defunct UK company Hokushin that also gave Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood its Video Nasty debut (as Bloodbath). That print was technically uncut (the almost 2 minute difference in running times between it and the Italian version being tops and tails of scenes). The UK tape was cropped from the film’s hard-matted 1.85:1 aspect ratio and lacked the ending screen credit for Lovelock’s vocals. A widescreen Italian VHS sell-through tape was released in the 1990s by Nocturno (a company now associated with Raro Video). The copy that Tim Lucas reviewed for Video Watchdog 30:18 was derived from the British tape and was available (and may still be) through European Trash Cinema.
Eric Cotenas, 2008