Friday, 7 September 2007

The Long Hair of Death (1964)

Barbara Steele started her career in Italian horror on a very high note indeed, in Mario Bava’s brilliant Black Sunday (La Maschera del demonio). Her subsequent Italian movies never quite equalled that masterpiece, but the strangely-titled The Long Hair of Death (I Lunghi capelli della morte) is actually not bad at all. It’s a tale of a woman falsely accused of a crime and suffering death at the stake, of witchcraft, of revenge and betrayal, of dead women who refuse to stay dead, of adultery, and of a country and its leader cursed from the grave. It has all the ingredients you could possibly want in a gothic horror movie, and it has the gothic atmosphere in spades. Director Antonio Margheriti was no Bava, but he was extremely competent and was always at his best working in the gothic horror mode. When you’re making a movie with Barbara Steele you need to be able to make the most of her considerable screen presence and her striking and unusual beauty, and Margheriti manages to do just that. And Steele, given a pretty decent role, does a very fine job. The movie is, by the standards of 1964, rather gruesome, but this quality is used effectively and contributes to the mood of mounting corruption both personal and political. Italian horror of this period sometimes relies almost exclusively on the visual elements, but this one has quite a strong plot - it’s complicated but it hangs together well, and it has a nice symmetry to it. It’s a consistently entertaining movie with some moments of real terror, and a powerful and effective ending.

It would be nice to say that the DVD release, on the Sinema Diable label, was worthy of the film, but sadly I have to say the picture quality is pretty dubious. This movie deserved better treatment. The Long Hair of Death is more than good enough to compensate for these deficiencies however, and if you have any interest in 60s eurohorror then this is a movie you simply have to see.

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