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  Long Hair of Death, The The AccursedBuy this film here.
Year: 1964
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Stars: Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska, Umberto Raho, Laura Nucci, Guiliano Raffaelli, Nello Pazzafini, Jeffrey Darcey
Genre: Horror
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It is the late fifteenth century and the land is gripped with a fear of witchcraft, meaning anyone suspected of dealing with the devil is put to death - even if there's no proof other than basic superstition. Count Humboldt (Guiliano Rafferty), the landowner of the region, has had it arranged so one woman is to be burned at the stake, and her daughter Helen (Barbara Steele) sneaks into his castle to confront him and plead for her mother's life. However, he only agrees if he can take sexual advantage of the young woman, and even as he rapes her he does nothing to prevent the execution...

Barbara Steele was well into her run of Italian gothic horrors by the time The Long Hair of Death was released, but in spite of this being what she was best known for, this example was one of her most obscure entries. It fit the template that had been set down by Mario Bava's Black Sunday, not simply because of who the leading lady was but because it adopted the by now familiar revenge from beyond the grave plot, as not only does Helen's mother go to her death placing a curse on those who have wrongfully killed her, but Helen gets bumped off as well, though she doesn't get the chance to yell out any curses.

That's due to her being pushed off a cliff into a fast-flowing river below, so all she says is "AAARGH!" but rest assured she will be back. In the meantime the story concentrates on her sister Elizabeth, only a child when she suffers her bereavement but growing up within the castle's walls to be Halina Zalewska, who the Count's now-adult son Kurt (George Ardisson) lusts after against her wishes. As you can see, this is one of those many Italian horrors where the upper classes are a bunch of corrupt, no good exploiters of the poor, and so it is that Elizabeth is forced into a marriage with Kurt, even though she knows what his family did to hers all those years ago.

But a plan is being put into motion, and that happens about the point where you're wondering if Babs will ever reappear considering her name was first billed, so if you're missing her she does show up again thanks to a lightning bolt striking her grave and blasting it open. Inside we see her corpse grow flesh and a pair of eyes, and the next thing you know Helen is up and walking around as if nothing had happened, except now she's calling herself Mary to preserve some sense of mystery. It's about this stage that the narrative grows murkier, but if you get lost don't worry as right at the end Steele has a speech which explains it all - besides, that enigma simply adds to the atmosphere.

Although Kurt is set up as the baddie, taking advantage of all and sundry but especially Elizabeth, there comes a time in the movie when you might begin to feel sorry for him, that despite him poisoning his wife because he now wants Mary. Much of this is thanks to Ardisson's genuinely anguished performance once the trouble for him starts, as the spirits do toy with him like a cat with a mouse, so he may be a would-be murderer and rapist, but there's a cruelty matching his actions which the less bloodthirsty might well have wished had resulted in some kind of fair trial instead of what actually happens to him - which also begs the question, did the makers of The Wicker Man see The Long Hair of Death? In a film bedecked with impenetrable shadows, which handily also concealed the cheapness of the sets, the darkest part is that revenge, as not only have the Count's lineage been cursed but there's a plague afflicting the populace, so the ending may have a satisfying nastiness to it, but whether you endorse it is another matter. Music by Carlo Rustichelli.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Antonio Margheriti  (1930 - 2002)

Italian writer and director who worked in a variety of genres throughout his career, although largely horror, science fiction and western. Some of his films include Castle of Blood, The Wild, Wild Planet, The Long Hair of Death, Take a Hard Ride, Killer Fish, Cannibal Apocalypse and Yor, Hunter from the Future.

 
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