Sunday, March 16, 2008

Honourable mentions: Long Hair of Death


This is a 1964 film by Antonio Margheriti, the same director who would later bring us the seminal Castle of Blood and its remake Web of the Spider. Now, Castle of Blood recreated the genre by giving us vampiric ghosts and, whilst a fine film, it is a very unusual genre piece.

This film is… well in the first instance let me say that exactly what it was, was its main problem as it doesn’t really know. It might be a murder mystery, a story of revenge, a dynastical film of political intrigue and a tale of the supernatural; it has elements of all of these. Whilst the supernatural element vacillates between witchcraft story and ghost story, the film actually draws a little from Carmilla - hence the honourable mention.

Giuliano Raffaelli as Count HumboldtThe film starts at the end of the 15th Century and accused witch Adele is to be taken to be burnt for her crimes. A woman (Barbara Steele), who is named Helen Karnstein but calls herself Roquefort, sneaks into the castle of Count Humboldt (Giuliano Raffaelli) to plead her innocence. Adele is accused of killing Humboldt’s brother Franz but Helen, her daughter, says she is innocent. Now, we already have our first Carmilla lift, as Carmilla’s family name is Karnstein.

Adele curses the Count's lineHumboldt gets frisky with Helen, telling her that nothing will happen to Adele until he gets there. However the priest Von Klage (Umberto Raho) and Humboldt’s son Kurt (George Ardisson) have started proceedings – forcing Adele’s younger daughter Elizabeth (played as an adult by Halina Zalewska) to watch. Adele is in a straw maze that is aflame. She climbs to a cross in the centre and curses Humboldt and his line.

Elizabeth and KurtHelen runs away but, the next day, is caught by Humboldt and falls down a cliff face into a pool. Helen is buried and her mother’s ashes are interned with her.

Years pass and we learn that Franz was actually killed by Kurt – as he was to be disinherited. Franz' corpseKurt forces Elizabeth to marry him. The film is fairly slow through the middle and Margheriti pushes a view that there is nothing supernatural going on. We see Humboldt, racked with guilt, visit his brother’s tomb and become convinced that the corpse is breathing. We see it is rats in the shirt of the corpse.

Helen returnsHowever, the supernatural eventually comes back into this when the land is suffering from plague (part of Adele’s curse). Elizabeth prays to her mother, begging for help in fulfilling their revenge and then, as she and the others from the castle are in the chapel, lightning strikes Helen’s grave. We see the corpse begin to reform. Helen walks into the chapel, Humboldt dies (of fright) and Helen collapses.

Barbara Steele as Helen/MaryWhen she comes round she states that her name is Mary and, in the Carmilla lift, claims to have had a carriage crash. Elizabeth and Kurt insist that she remain with them – it is also clear that Kurt’s reasons are less than pure, having forced Elizabeth to marry him he now wants the stranger in the household.

George Ardisson as KurtIn the world drawn around us adultery is punishable by death and Kurt develops a convoluted plot to murder Elizabeth. Helen/Mary seems to be in on it, but it is all part of an even more convoluted plot to get revenge on him and fulfil their mother's curse.

Helen fades next to an efigyWhilst Helen seems to be a resurrected corpse, she is, in fact, a ghost. At the end of the film we see her corpse – still rotten as it was only the eyes that reformed (and why that was is beyond me) – and see her by it in spirit form. It becomes clear that she can vanish and reappear at will. She states that “Death can often reinstate life.”

There is nothing particularly vampiric about her. She is a spirit, a dead thing looking for revenge. However, her familial name and the way she inserts herself into the household are lifted from Carmilla. A little slow in places, and perhaps a little too long, nevertheless this is a nice little bit of Euro-horror and, as always, Barbara Steele shines.

The imdb page is here.

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