1964 – NR – 100 Minutes – Raro Video
Starring Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska – by Antonio Margheriti
Anytime something bad is happening in the world, it’s probably because of a witch’s curse and to get rid of it, you have to burn her on a cross. If she cries out for her maker and dies, she wasn’t a witch after all, but if she shrieks out hexes and curses those who wronged her, she is a witch, but she is burning, so the curse is gone! Everybody wins. Except the witch. These are all scientific facts.
But you better hope that witch doesn’t curse you and cry out for vengeance upon her execution. It will haunt you for the rest of your life, which will come to an end unexpectedly, just as you think you are on top of the world. The Long Hair of Death is such an example. It’s dark and shadowy trip down a cold, chilling hallway of treachery, murder and revenge from Antonio Margheriti, the director of cult classics like Castle of Blood and Yor, Hunter From the Future. Ok, that last one maybe not so much, but the guy knows how to create mood and tension.
And what way better way to open up a movie? Count Humboldt and his rather douchy son Curt are burning a witch at the stake, but this isn’t your regular kind of tie-them-to-a-cross burning. It’s some sort of torcherous haystack maze that is set on fire! As the accused witch is trying to escape the hellfire, her hot daughter (no pun intended) Helen, played by the gorgeous Barbara Steele, is attempting to plead with the Count to save her by any means necessary… any, if you catch my drift. So while the Count is grinding on her, he promises her that her mother will be safe, but then Curt sets a torch to the maze and the old woman catches fire while her youngest daughter watches and she shouts curses on her tormentors. Jeez, the guy couldn’t even wait til morning to break his promise. Helen vows that she will have her revenge, but there may be a change of plans. The Count tosses her off a cliff and into a river, leaving her younger sister Lisabeth as the sole survivor. Helen is buried with the old witch’s ashes, which you know is going to be a combination more deadly than peanut butter and chocolate.
Some years pass and Lisabeth is now a young woman, being stalked by the even creepier Curt, who basically forces her into marriage. Of course, this is back in the day when you could just say you’re going to marry someone and claim them. That’s basically what happens, but even though she’s his wife now, he will never have her heart. He doesn’t truly love her and she hates him and they spend a good amount of time loathing each other and staring daggers as she plots her revenge against Curt while avoiding him. So, it’s your basic run of the mill marriage. Lisabeth begs for vengeance and vengeance she shall have!
As the plague is claiming the lives of the villagers, Curt and his father stay safely in their castle until an old, familiar face returns! Could it be Helen? She certainly looks like her, but doesn’t act like her… The woman says her name is Mary and has been separated from her group. Upon seeing her face, the count dies from guilt and Curt greaves in Helen’s magnificent bosom. But don’t think Lisabeth doesn’t notice some other floozy making moves on her man! She soon becomes jealous and suspects Curt of adultery and she should, because he is totally hitting that behind her back. Even as Helen tries to leave, Curt goes as far as to poison a messenger sent out to find her party. Now, if that isn’t the sign of someone who loves you, I don’t know what is.
Deceit, treachery and murder are all part of this marriage (I guess each couple has to keep their relationship “fresh”), as Curt plots Lisabeth’s death and she patiently awaits for revenge, but will she ever get it? And why is it hard to advert my eyes away from Helen’s cleavage? Curt soon brings Helen into the mix, turning her against Lisabeth and soon paranoia sets in and there is nobody they can trust, not even the priest! Well, if you can’t trust the priest, then who can you? It’s a devilish story about getting even that leads up to an ending that will ring of The Wicker Man.
Talk about an exciting, little murder mystery! There are plenty of moments in the film where anything seems possible and you aren’t sure what’s going to happen, but you’re certainly there, wide eyed in anticipation waiting for it. Sure, you’ve seen this plot probably about a dozen times and maybe it’s the way it’s presented here, but it doesn’t feel old. Those Italians sure do know how to create some genuine suspense. It does take some time getting to the revenge, but everything is a slow build, so you have enough time to get to know these characters and despise them enough so that any type of revenge is justified, no matter how cruel and unusual it may be. And boy, does it get cruel and unusual.
But that’s just the start. There is a lot of sexualization in the film and dealing into darker matters with rape and abuse, which may seem unheard of for films from the 60’s, but this is when European Gothic horror films were really starting to become just what they were meant to be; dark. Yes, there was a time when goth was more than whatever was trending down at the Hot Topic and The Long Hair of Death represents that. Presenting the spousal abuse, adultery, death and plague is some beautifully lit set pieces, highly contrasting the lights and shadows within the castle, something Italian filmmakers seem to have a knack for. The film has some seriously beautiful images.
And I have to give praise to the performances in the film. Curt is that villain you love to hate. He’s always up to something that will only further his desires while hurting someone else. Everything he says seems to be there to shine light on his greed, selfishness and his treacherous scheming. Even against his own father, who starts off as the most detestable person in the film, but later accepts his own fate. I did find it odd that Curt would later come to mourn his passing, especially after Curt admits to the reason behind the Count’s brother’s disappearance. Countering that is Lisabeth, the sympathetic female unwillingly caught in the middle of all of this. At times she seems a little weak, because you want her to extract the revenge, but that is lent a more supernatural hand. I also felt that her jealousy was a bit unwarranted, since adultery was met with execution back in the day and that could have solved her problem right there, but I guess she wanted to do it herself. And of course we have to mention the gothic bombshell Barbara Steele in a dual role. This woman does the unimaginable in an attempt to save her mother’s life as Helen and as Mary, she flaunts was she was born with and expresses what a sexual beast she can be.
For those of you always looking for the greatest quality out there, Raro really came through for you. The picture is sharp and smooth, although sometimes too smooth, delivering a pretty crisp picture with little leftover scratches. The same can be said about the audio, which seems to be flawless here. That score will get stuck in your head for days and both Italian and English dialogue tracks are here. I recommend the Italian track with the English subs, since the English dub seems to be a bit sillier and some of the dialogue is omitted, like an inner voice speaking to Lisabeth.
Sure, you could choose from one of the many Hammer Horror films if the mood strikes you for something gothic, but I say reach a little further for The Long Hair of Death. Something about it feels more natural than something in the Hammer series (not saying anything bad about Hammer), especially within the scenery. It’s a dreary good time that is remarkable to look at and will keep you in suspense as wave after wave of tension keep slamming into you.