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Published by David Carter on 2015/3/15 (755 reads)
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Review by David Carter

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Released by Raro Video
Running Time: 94 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: B&W
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 Mono PCM Linear English or Italian/English Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: Video introduction, two interviews, booklet
Trailer Online: Yes

Short Version: High gothic chiller

To call Barbara Steele the queen of gothic horror is an indisputable fact and also something of an understatement. Her beautiful yet haunted face made as much of an artistic contribution to the genre as the efforts of the directors with whom she worked. Steel’s large, expressive eyes gave her the appearance of being simultaneously horrified by and attracted to whatever she was looking at; mirroring the emotions of horror cinema audiences. Her masterpiece is of course Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY, and the popularity of that movie has unfortunately overshadowed some works of equal importance. One such film is THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH, a 1964 Antonio Margheriti work that stands as one of the strongest Eurohorror films of the decade. LONG HAIR is now available on Blu Ray courtesy of Raro Video.

Treachery and deceit are rampant in a plague-torn European village. Count Humboldt’s brother has been murdered and he accuses the witch Adele Karnstein of the crime. Karnstein’s true crime is an affair with the deceased man, but Humboldt decrees her to be burned alive in an effort to conceal the affair. Adele’s beautiful daughter Helen offers herself up to Humboldt in an effort to save her mother’s life but Humboldt has Adele burned anyway, and the witch screams out a curse against her murderers with her final breath. Helen confronts Humboldt about the deception the following day and is thrown off a cliff for her troubles and buried with her mother’s ashes.

Years later Adele’s other daughter, Lisabeth, has grown into a beautiful young woman, catching the attention of Humboldt’s tempestuous son Kurt. Kurt marries Lisabeth against both her wishes and the wishes of his father, shocking the latter when he reveals that it was he that killed his brother – the crime for which Adele was killed. As the ravages of the plague become more intense, a strange visitor arrives in the dead of night and her appearance causes the aging Humboldt to drop dead. Mary is a dead ringer for Helen Karnstein and quickly becomes the object of Kurt’s affections while she stays in the castle. Is Mary simply a love rival for Lisabeth, or is she Helen returned from the grave to avenge the Karnstein family?

Steele’s forte is playing women who may or may not have returned from the dead, but one shouldn’t assume for that reason that THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH is unoriginal. While certainly working with familiar tropes, the film manages to be unique through smaller narrative elements that distinguish it from other films. Chief among these is the fact that Humboldt, the only character that would know what Helen looked like, dies immediately, so the is-she or isn’t-she tension only occurs in the audiences’ minds, thus freeing the film up to devote itself to other things. This question provides the lion’s share of the film’s tension, but an extended and well-executed climax more than satisfy the viewer’s desire for action. The truly horrifying finale is a standout in the Eurohorror genre that few movies in any decade have matched.

Raro Video has lovingly brought several European genre classics into high definition, and they’ve continued their streak of high quality releases with THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH. LONG HAIR may be less known that some of Steele’s other efforts but Raro has given it what is undoubtedly its finest release ever with this Blu Ray. Dual interviews appear as special features but my personal favorite is the full color booklet that accompanies this and other Raro releases. I would recommend THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH to any gothic horror fan without hesitation. It is truly one of the best the genre has to offer and a highlight of early sixties Italian horror.
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