The Long Hair of Death (Antonio Margheriti, 1964)
aka I LUNGHI CAPELLI DELLA MORTE
Adele Karnstein is condemned to burn at the stake for suspicion of witchcraft, as well as the murder or Count France, the brother of Count Humboldt. Soldiers search for Adele’s oldest daughter, Helen Karnstein, also suspected of witchery. She secretly enters the room of Count Humboldt and begs for her mother’s freedom, proclaiming that she is in fact innocent and it is someone else that had murdered the Count; someone living within the castle. Humboldt promises to delay the burning should Helen give her body to him. She does, but the execution is carried out anyway. As she burns, Adele promises that a curse and a plague will befall the castle of Humboldt and the villages that surround it. Helen tries to escape but is caught and murdered by Humboldt. Years later a plague indeed penetrates the castle, laying waste to the villagers living nearby. Count Humboldt–now living in fear and riddled with sickness–enters the chapel along with his son during a violent thunderstorm to hear passages from the bible. At which time, a lightning bolt strikes the tomb of Helen Karnstein, cracking it open. Suddenly, the doors of the church swing open and a mysterious woman enters; a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Helen Karnstein. Thus begins the vengeance of the witch…
THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) is a nice companion piece to Margheriti’s other Black and white Gothic horror romp, CASTLE OF BLOOD (1963). Owing much to the style of Mario Bava and his phenomenally successful BLACK SUNDAY/THE MASK OF SATAN (1959; but not forgetting Ricardo Freda’s I, VAMPIRI from 1956, which Bava also worked on), Italian Gothic horror of the 1960s had a flair that could stand with the best of the Hammer Productions from England. Like the Gothic horror films emerging from Mexico around the same time, the most foreboding and intrinsic entries were often the B/W features. THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) has a number of atmospheric sequences, adding layers of dread that possibly would be lost had the film been shot in colour. After the 40 minute mark, the film’s pace begins to slow down when Mary (Steele), the strange woman who entered the church on the night of Humboldt’s death, enters the picture. All the necessary ingredients to make one of these spooky oldeworld horror films are on hand here; a wrongful death/burning of a witch, the eerie castle, hidden passageways, ghosts, and like MASK OF SATAN (1959), there’s a hint of necrophilia present.
Barbara Steele was a striking beauty with an unusually sensual face. Prior to her stint as the Queen of Italian horror, conflicting stories have Steele either storming off the set of the Elvis Presley movie FLAMING STAR (1960) after arguing with the director, or getting fired because of her ill-fitting accent. Whichever the case, having turned her back on Hollywood at the time, she turned to Italy and enjoyed a steady career in Euro horror for a number of years before returning to America where she got little work; mostly in the horror or fantasy field. Her best is undoubtedly her dual role in the groundbreaking BLACK SUNDAY (1959), followed by Roger Corman’s THE PIT & THE PENDULUM (1961) and subsequent Italo horror output such as THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK (1962), the aforementioned CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THE FACELESS MONSTER (1965) and TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965). According to the booklet that’s included with Raro’s DVD, Steele exposes one of her breasts during one of the love scenes. However, during the scene there is a cut between Ardisson covering Mary’s face with her hair and a shot of him ripping her top away which would suggest the use of a stand-in, as Steele’s face is never seen in the shot.
Character actor Nello Pazzafini is seen in a number of scenes as the character named Monk. Like director Margheriti, Pazzafini had his hands in every Italian genre throughout the 60s and 70s almost always in supporting or minor roles in sword and sandal movies, before making the successful transition to spaghetti westerns, horror, crime, comedy and more, thus becoming, without doubt, one of the most recognizable faces in Italian genre cinema.
Antonio Margheriti was a versatile talent whose stamp covers most genres, his favourite being the cinema of the fantastique. Margheriti also helmed a number of Italian Sci-Fi pictures and sword and sandal adventures such as HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL (1965); a lesser entry in the peplum/fusto genre that is actually part of the URSUS series of films, but the title was changed for US distribution. The film had elements of horror and features a sorceress who turns men into werewolves. Margheriti also delivered a somewhat mediocre, but lively film in the Italian cannibal subgenre with CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), which starred John Saxon, Tony King and John Morghen (aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice), and is the story of deadly virus brought back from Vietnam by infected veterans.
Margheriti peppers THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) with interesting characters and situations and although the action slows down somewhat during the last half, the suspenseful second half benefits from these interactions. The film is also enhanced by a hauntingly beautiful score (by Evirust aka Carlo Rustichelli) that echoes the later score for Hammer’s LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971). The deliciously ghoulish ending is foreshadowed around the 70 minute mark. Even though you can pretty much guess how the twist is going to play out at the end, it is still a good, gloomy trip getting there and remains recommended viewing for Barbara Steele fans and those who enjoy older horror films with Gothic trappings.
The Region 2 DVD from Raro contains both the Italian and English audio track. The print is a bit battered and lacks anamorphic enhancement but the English audio is very clear and crisp throughout. Aside from some rather bright shots here and there, the presentation is fine for such a lesser-known film of this vintage. One brief snippet of film apparently wasn’t dubbed in English and there’s no audible dialog present on the English track. This is only noticeable because Ardisson is clearly seen mouthing some dialog to Steele in a large mirror. There is also approximately 31 seconds of missing frames or footage from this release and this includes a shot of beams of light shining through an ornate window, reflecting off of a crucifix followed by a shot of a group of monks. It is possible these brief bits were removed because of damage to the print. The opening title card is presented in Italian; the title appears in front of a wall – presumably the dungeon seen in the castle, with a burning torch to the left of the frame giving off a shadow effect of the films title. A nice touch which is missing from release versions bearing the films English translated title. Two interviews are also on the disc, one with Margheriti’s son Eduordo the other with writer Antonio Tentori but sadly both are in Italian with no English options offered. The booklet inside the DVD keepcase has both Italian and English text.
THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964) is an often visually striking piece of Euro horror that should find a home in the collections of Margheriti, Steele and B&W terror film fans alike.