The Master (of revenge)

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A Tribute To Barbara Steele

My Opinion

While not the first or the last scream queen, Barbara Steele remains my favorite. Like other horror movie greats she always played her part perfectly, giving 110% in spite of the sometimes sub par material, which inevitably brought what might have been a forgettable movie up to cult classic status. Whether she was playing the victim or perpetrator, someone giving or on the receiving end of revenge, she was convincing and she has a classic collection of gothic (and some non gothic) horrors on her resume to prove it.



The most beautiful star of the greatest horror masterpiece of Italian film, Maschera del demonio, La (1960) (aka "Black Sunday"): Barbara Steele was born on December 19, 1938 in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England. Barbara is loved by her fans for her talent, intelligence, and a dark, mysterious beauty that is unique; her face epitomizes either sweet innocence, or malign evil (she is wonderful to watch either way). At first, Barbara studied to become a painter. In 1957, she joined an acting repertory company. Her feature acting debut was in the British comedy Bachelor of Hearts (1958). At age 21, this strikingly lovely lady, with the hauntingly beautiful face, large eyes, sensuous lips and long, dark hair got her breakout role by starring in Maschera del demonio, La (1960), the quintessential Italian film about witchcraft (it was the directorial debut for cinematographer Mario Bava; with his background, it was exquisitely photographed and atmospheric). We got to see Barbara, but did not hear her; her voice was dubbed by another actress for international audiences. After its American success, AIP brought Barbara to America, to star in Roger Corman's Pit and the Pendulum (1961); (though the film was shot entirely in English, again Barbara's own voice was not used). By now, Barbara was typecast by American audiences as a horror star. In 1962, she answered an open-casting call and won a role in Federico Fellini's 8½ (1963); she only had a small but memorable role. Reportedly Fellini wanted to use her more in the film, but she was contracted to leave Rome to start work on her next horror movie, _Orribile segreto del Dr. Hitchock, L' (1962)_ (aka "The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock"). Being a slow and meticulous director, Fellini's 8½ (1963) was not released until 1963. (Later, when Barbara was cast in lesser roles in lesser movies, she would tell the directors: "I've worked with some of the best directors in the world. I've worked with Fellini!") More horror movies followed, such as Spettro, Lo (1963) (aka "The Spectre"), Danza macabra (1964) (aka "Castle of Blood"), Angelo per Satana, Un (1966) (aka "An Angel for Satan") and others; this success led to her being typecast in the horror genre, where she more often than not appeared in Italian movies with a dubbed voice. The nadir was appearing in Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), which was mainly eye candy, with scantily-clad women in a cult. Unfortunately, Barbara got sick of being typecast in horror movies. One of the screen's greatest horror stars, she said in an interview: "I never want to climb out of another freakin' coffin again!" This was sad news for her legion of horror fans; it was also a false-step for Barbara as far as a career move. Back in America, she met screenwriter James Poe; they got married, and remained together for many years. James Poe wrote an excellent role for Barbara in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969). The role ended up going to Susannah York, and Barbara wouldn't act in movies again for 5 years. Barbara returned to movies in Caged Heat (1974); she was miscast: a few years before, Barbara would have been one of the beautiful inmates, not the wheelchair-bound warden, but her performance won positive reviews. In 1977, she appeared in a film by Roger Corman, based on the true story of a mentally ill woman, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977). Unfortunately, her scenes wound up on the cutting room floor. Barbara appeared in Pretty Baby (1978), but she was in the background the whole time, and her talents were wasted. Barbara would appear in 2 more unmemorable movies. She and James Poe got divorced, (he died a few years later). Barbara did _Silent Scream (1980)_. Maybe because her ex-husband was now dead, or because her acting career was going nowhere, Barbara retired from acting for a decade. However, she had a lot of success as a producer. She was an associate producer for the TV mini-series "The Winds of War" (1983) (mini), and produced "War and Remembrance" (1988) (mini), for which she got an Emmy award. Her horror fans were delighted when Barbara showed up again, this time on TV in Dark Shadows (1990) (TV), a revival of the beloved 1960s supernatural soap. The still-lovely Barbara acts occasionally, her latest film was The Prophet (1999/I). Even past 60, Barbara is still beautiful and her fans still love her.



Her Morbid Desires (2007)
Mario Bava: Operazione paura (2004) (TV) .... Playing Herself
The Prophet (1999)
Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance (1998) .... Playing Herself
Hollywood Rated 'R' (1997) .... Playing Herself
A-Z of Horror (1997) (mini) TV Series .... Playing Herself
Tief oben (1994) ... aka Deep Above
Dark Shadows (12 episodes, 1991)
Fear in the Dark (1991) (TV) .... Playing Herself
War and Remembrance (1988) (mini) TV Series
The Winds of War (1983) (mini) TV Series
Sois belle et tais-toi (1981) .... Playing Herself
The Silent Scream (1980)
Clé sur la porte, La (1978) ... aka The Key Is in the Door (USA)
Piranha (1978)
Pretty Baby (1978)
I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977)
Shivers (1975)... aka They Came from Within (USA)
The Space-Watch Murders (1975)
Caged Heat (1974) ... aka Caged Females
Night Gallery (1 episode, 1972)
Honeymoon with a Stranger (1969)
Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) ... aka The Crimson Cult (USA)
Handicap (1968)
Fermate il mondo... voglio scendere (1968)
Amante estelar, La (1968)
I Spy (1 episode, 1966)
Armata Brancaleone, L' (1966)... aka For Love and Gold (International: English title)
Junge Törless, Der (1966)... aka Young Torless (USA)
Angelo per Satana, Un (1966) ... aka An Angel for Satan
Sorella di Satana, La (1966)... aka The She-Beast
Danger Man (1 episode, 1965)... aka Secret Agent (USA)
Amanti d'oltretomba, Gli (1965) ... aka Nightmare Castle (USA)
5 tombe per un medium (1965)... aka Terror-Creatures from the Grave
Once Upon a Tractor (1965)
Soldi, I (1965)
Amore facile (1964)
Monocle rit jaune, Le (1964) ... aka The Monocle (USA)
Tre per una rapina (1964)
Danza macabra (1964)... aka Castle of Blood (UK) (USA)
Voci bianche, Le (1964)... aka Undercover Rogue (USA)
Baisers, Les (1964)
Maniaci, I (1964)... aka The Maniacs
Lunghi capelli della morte, I (1964)... aka The Long Hair of Death (USA)
Tentativo sentimentale, Un (1963)... aka A Sentimental Attempt (International: English title)
Spettro, Lo (1963)... aka The Ghost (USA)
Ore dell'amore, Le (1963)... aka The Hours of Love (USA)
8½ (1963)
Capitano di ferro, Il (1962)... aka Revenge of the Mercenaries (USA: TV title)
Orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock, L' (1962)... aka The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (USA)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1 episode, 1961)
Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Adventures in Paradise (1 episode, 1960)
Maschera del demonio, La (1960)... aka Black Sunday (USA)... aka The Mask of Satan
Your Money or Your Wife (1960)
Upstairs and Downstairs (1959)
Sapphire (1959) (uncredited)
Bachelor of Hearts (1958)

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (2003) TV Series (associate producer)
Dark Shadows 30th Anniversary Tribute (1996) (producer)
War and Remembrance (1988) (mini) TV Series (producer)
The Winds of War (1983) (mini) TV Series (associate producer)

My Reviews

Black Sunday (1960)- A Mario Bava classic combining legends of vampirism, witchcraft, and Satan worship. A witch and her lover are tortured and killed (by her brother no less) and forced to wear the Mask of Satan, a mask that is basically nailed to the head. The witch curses the family and 200 years later returns to exact her revenge on her look alike descendant and her look alike descendant's father. There's some silly dialogue and some old school over the top acting but I still liked this movie as a well paced witch period piece. B.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)- Vincent Price's dad was an inquisitor and he witnessed some heinous stuff when he was young, including the torture of his mother. Rough childhood. Luckily he's grown out of all that stuff and has a lovely and caring young wife... or has he... or is she... Nice twist on the Poe tale (which as it is wouldn't make for much of a full length movie but makes for a great read). I really liked the twist and twist again ending too. Corman was hitting his stride with these Poe/Price vehicles at this time and I think this is one of his best. Great sets, color, and acting throughout. A.

Ghost, The (1963)- A sequel of sorts to "The Terrible Dr. Hitchcock", here we have Barbara Steele, with the aid of a young doctor, plotting the death of her crippled husband, Dr. Hitchcock. Their plan works but there are consequences to all actions as they are haunted by a vengeful ghost, a guilty conscience, and a rewritten will complete with missing jewels. This is a good suspense piece, a little over acted but mostly well done. You’ll see the twist at the end a mile away, but the little double twist was nice. It feels very much like a Hammer film. Hammer should’ve hired Steele for some of their productions. B.

Castle of Blood (1964)- A skeptic reporter meets up with Edgar Allan Poe and disputes that his stories are based on fact. An acquaintance challenges the reporter to survive a night in his haunted castle, the bet is accepted, the reporter is warned that he will have to relive all the deaths that have taken place in the castle over the years, he goes anyway and of course, things don’t go as planned, or maybe they go exactly as planned depending on who’s side you’re on. Yeah, this is cheap early Euro-horror with very bad dubbing at times, but it does manage to create a really good atmosphere. If you like the haunted castle atmosphere then you’ll like this. B+

Long Hair of Death, The (1964)- In a plot that closely mirrors "Black Sunday", Barbara Steele's mother is executed for a murder she didn't commit (and for witchcraft), then Steele is killed for knowing the truth. Before her death her mother cursed the family that sentenced her. Barbara's sister, who was young at the time, grows up and is forced to marry the son of the man who sentenced her mother to death. Barb's family then gets their revenge. Although very slow moving and not terribly original there are still some effective scenes and atmospheric directing. By no means a masterpiece, it still is a decent enough ghost/witch story. C+.

Terror Creature From The Grave (1965)- Another revenge tinged Italian Barbara Steele vehicle. So who’s out for the revenge? Is it Barbara, is it her creepy gardener, a villager, or could it be the ghost of her dead husband... or is he in fact actually dead? What am I talking about? A law firm receives a letter about helping a man with his will, when the lawyer arrives it turns out that the man has already been dead nearly a year, ironically the one year anniversary of his death is just two days away. Is the letter a hoax? The setting is a castle that sits where a hospital sat during the plague, many entered the hospital, none left, and those believed to be spreading the plague were tortured and killed there as well. So will this just turn out to be a Scooby Do episode or are there supernatural powers at work here? This movie succeeds in creating a great atmosphere and suspense. There is some bad acting, especially from the dead man’s daughter, silly poorly dubbed dialogue at times, and a couple of plot holes that confused me a little, and what does pure water have to do with anything? I guess they needed an ‘out’. Still, I liked this for it’s gothic sets and ghost story approach (look for the recording on the cylinder, very similar sounding to "The Evil Dead"). B+

Nightmare Castle (1965)- Another Barbara Steele Italian horror movie about revenge from the grave, a pretty popular subject apparently. In this one Barbara’s cold scientist husband is off to a convention, she calls on the gardener to get some satisfaction, only to get busted by the husband. He catches them, ties them up and proceeds to torture them. He runs into a snag when Barbara tells him she has changed her will (she’s loaded and he needs the cash for his experiments) to her sister who is in an asylum, how will he get all her money? Hubby kills her anyway then marries up with the sister in order to continue his experiments. He plans on driving her even more insane with the help from his eternally youthful (thanks to his experiments) maid/lover. So what we end up with is a love pentagram, with two of the participants dead! Will the sister go insane? Will the dead lovers have their revenge? Does the psychiatrist love the sister making this in fact a love hexagon? This isn’t very original material and my copy is not too good, but over all it is effective enough. Some nice atmosphere is created and the story kept me interested. I’ll give it a B-.

She-Beast, The (1966)- Is it a slapstick comedy or a horror movie. Some scenes try hard to create some good horror atmosphere, and come close, and some try pretty hard to look like something from the Keystone Cops, complete with a fast motion car chase scene and cops falling down a lot. Back in the 1700s a witch was caught kidnapping children and executed by being drowned in a lake. Before being killed she cursed the families of those present. Jump ahead to ‘now’ and a couple on their honeymoon. After some weird scenes in a run down hotel the couple wind up crashing their car into the lake and low and behold, the woman (Barbara Steele) is pulled out and she is the witch in some pretty bad witch makeup. Will the descendent of Dr. Van Helsing (?) be able to exorcise her in time? I’ll be blunt, this movie pretty much sucked. D.

Crimson Cult, The (1968)- Tigon tried to clone Hammer’s formula and comes close in this groovy 60s witchcraft, psychedelic, orgy, partying piece of nostalgia. Ahh, the 60s, they must have been fun, as long as you stayed away from Satanism and witchcraft! Christopher Lee plays his part straight as an arrow as the descendent of a witch burned at the stake, when antique dealer brothers show up in town, and Lee finds out they are the descendants of the judges who burned his ancestor, pay they must. Toss in witch expert Boris Karloff, who adds a little needed camp, and this turns out to be a pretty good one, despite the weak ending. Masterpiece? Not even close! But if you like the British 60s era horror then this is a good representative. B-.