Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy Birthday Barbara Steele (CASTLE OF BLOOD 1964)

  Happy Birthday to the Queen of Italian Horror &
That Beautiful Face Which Launched a Thousand Nightmares

    The (sometimes reluctant) face of Italian Horror was born on this day in 1937 in Cheshire, England. Starting out as a young (and one of the last) contract players at Rank, at one point she was loaned out to Fox for the Elvis picture FLAMING STAR and after being dropped because of her accent (and given a blond dye job) she fled back to Europe. Her photo was spotted in a magazine by director Mario Bava who cast her in his directorial debut LA MASSHERA DEL DEMONIO (BLACK SUNDAY) in 1960 and history was made.
    In 1961 A.I.P brought her back to America to star in the Roger Corman's THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM alongside Vincent Price, which after the success of BLACK SUNDAY cemented her reputation as a horror star. In 1962 she appeared in a small but memorable role in 8½ (which she always reminded people of ), but it was not released until 1963 by the meticulous Fellini. However, much to her annoyance at the time her horror icon status was cemented after 1963's THE GHOST & THE HORRIBLE. DR. HICHCOCK. She once said in an interview "I never want to climb out of another freakin' coffin again !"
   Because of her expressive eyes along with a beautiful & unique facial structure (wonderfully highlighted by directors such as Bava & Antonio Margheriti) she had the perfect look & presence for Gothic horrors. In  recent years Barbara has seemed to have become a bit more comfortable with her past as she was interviewed on the Arrow release of BLACK SUNDAY and has made sporadic convention appearances.

"The Living And The Dead Change Places In An Orgy Of Terror"

   Directed by Antonio Margheriti (here working under his Anthony Dawson pseudonym) 1964's DANSE MACABRE (CASTLE OF BLOOD) is the ultimate Gothic horror love poem to Barbara Steele. Based on a non-existent Edgar Allan Poe story the plot concerns a journalist Alan Foster (Georges Rivière) who is prodded in to a wager by visiting author Edgar Allan Poe (!?) and his companion Lord Blackwood to spend an evening in Blackwood's supposedly haunted ancestral English castle.

    Upon arrival there he soon discovers Elizabeth Blackwood (Steele) lurking about the allegedly deserted castle along with Julia (the very gorgeous Margrete Robsham). Instantly falling in love with Elizabeth, Alan soon discovers that the women (along with a several other people) are all ghost like vampires who are forced on this particular night to relieve their deaths and search for the blood of a victim so that they may live beyond the singe night.

   Overflowing in B&W Gothic atmosphere with graveyards, crypts, billowing curtains, cobwebs, roving candelabras and the hauntingly beautiful presence of Barbara Steele. Blond Norwegian actress Robsman makes a striking counterpoint to the dark haired Steele and it's a shame she didn't work more after this picture (allegedly she was uncomfortable with her having to kiss Steele).

   Available on DVD from Synapse which adds the topless scene of  Sylvia Sorrente (filmed for the spicier "continental" version), along some of the lesbian kissing of Steele & Robsham, Steele's orgasmic facial expressions during a love scene and a bit of blood, all of which were cut for the American release.
   An excellent example of why we love Italian horror and the perfect way to spend Barbara's birthday tonight (with all apologies to Mario Bava & Black Sunday).

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