The Film (3/5)
Antonio Margheriti's Long Hair of Death begins with the burning of a witch falsely accused of murder. Her daughter Helen (Barbara Steele), is pleading with the local Count to stop the execution until she can put the evidence together to defend her Mother, he agrees to do so on the condition that she sleeps with him. The Count has assured her that the burning will not occur without him present, she reluctantly agrees. Unfortunately, someone did not get the memo, and her Mother is burnt at the stake in clear view of her other, younger daughter Elizabeth. As Mom dies she curses the count, his family, and the village. Helen then swears revenge for her Mother's death, of course scream loud enough, and someone will listen. The Count heard her loud and clear, and chucked her over a waterfall to prevent said revenge.
The film then skips ahead a few years, a plague is sweeping the village, and the Count has lost his mind, and believes this to be the curse at work. Elizabeth, has grown up, and Kurt Whalen, the Count’s son, has his eyes on her. During a freak lightning storm Helen is restored to life, and the shock of seeing her ends the Count's life. Helen then begins to use her charms to steal Kurt (who does not recognize her) away from Elizabeth, and into her trap.
Antonio Margheriti's the Long Hair of Death was one of the first films reviewed at EuroCultAV.com in 2009 on a DVD paired up with another Barbara Steele gothic An Angel for Satan. While that film has a surprisingly nice transfer for a gray market release, The Long Hair of Death had a very scratchy, bleached transfer that certainly did not do the film any sort of justice. When Raro announced their Blu-ray re-release of the film I was certainly interested in a revisit, as almost any HD restoration would be better than what I had experienced previously, and sometimes a shiny new transfer can make all the difference in how one looks at a film.
Previously, I found Long Hair of Death slightly lacking in the realm of Steele's Italian gothic work. I will continue to stand by that statement. The prior collaboration between Barbara Steele and director Antonio Margheriti, Castle of Blood has held up better to me for quite some time. That being said Long Hair of Death does have a number of elements going for it.
Like most of the Italian gothic films Steele would star in, the film had atmosphere in spades. Further, the opening and closing segments of the film are superb. The burning of the witch in the opening is one of the most unique burning sequences I have scene in gothic cinema, as it feels if she is being tortured in a labyrinthine environment before being cast upon the stake of her own volition creating a true atmosphere of suspense, and even a note of understanding with the character before she passes on. This is coupled with Helen being propositioned by the Count in his bed chambers creating further suspense.
The closing 15 or so minutes where the films plot truly begins to come together, and Helen's revenge begins to be truly enacted is also wonderfully shot with excellent tense moments, and quite an original and iconic moment of death for the villain of the piece. The film also contains what would be considered one of Barbara Steele's finest Italian performances as she channels both the roles of the doomed witch in the introduction, and the role of Helen throughout. A role that requires her to be evil and over the top, and at other times understanding and sensual.
The negative to all this is the film is unevenly paced, and between the excellent opening and closing simply drags. I love a good drama, but the film during most of the second act feels like more like a hamfisted gothic romance, and would not be out of place in an episode of Dark Shadows.
Overall, the direction from Margheriti creates a nice gothic atmosphere, and the performances from Steele and George Ardisson as Kurt go along to sell the film. It's just not the film I would go to when my occasionally Barbara Steele mood strikes. However, it's a decent little Saturday afternoon Italian gothic.
Raro Video has done a magnificent job in the restoration for Long Hair of Death. This film is presented in an MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer preserving the films OAR. The level of fine detail present is excellent, as is contrast, there is also a healthy level of natural film grain present, and only a minor bit of softness to really complain about.
The audio has been presented in LPCM 2.0 English and Italian tracks. I did stick with the Italian which was suitable for it's intended purpose. The dialogue, score, and effects came through nice and clear. I did not detect any audio issues on my listen.
Raro have put together a solid package for the Long Hair of Death. We get a 5 minute introduction to the film by Fangoria's Chris Alexander, who also providers liner notes. Further, we get a 10 minute interview with Margheriti's son, and a 6 minute interview with writer Antonio Tentori. The disc is rounded off with English and Italian variations on the trailer.
Not my favorite Barbara Steele gothic, the Long Hair of Death still has some great iconic moments to recommend it by. The A/V restoration from Raro is one of their finest, and there are a nice assortment of extras present. RECOMMENDED.