Just another #MonsterMondayhere at Kinky Ho-rror! This week, we’re worshiping at the Crimson Altar of the High Priestess of Gothic Ho-rror, Barbara Steele!
Ms. Steele is, without a doubt, THE Queen of cl-Ass-Sick Ho-rror Cinema. Her piercing eyes, her haunting presence, her ghost-like grace…Barbara always looked like she was about to Steele your soul! No coffin could hold her and no force on Earth could stop her! She held her own against the likes of Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, and Barnabas Collins! Both ho-rror heroine and ho-rrific monster, Steele is a true fright icon.
Today’s terror tale is Nightmare Castle and it features Goddess Steele at her most frightful. The Gothic Queen does double duty as both the doe-eyed Jenny and the ghostly Muriel… and kills it as both!
It’s an old-fashioned sort of story: castles, romance, and… ghosts! A cozy little tale that’s just perfect for this most ghoulish of seasons. With mad science, fiendish torture, surreal nightmares, and an Ennio Morricone score that sounds like it was composed by The Phantom of the Opera, this is film is pure Gothic bliss. And if Steele’s creeptacular performance doesn’t frighten you, you’re already dead! Do you dare spend the night at… Nightmare Castle?!
December is rough time to have a birthday, dear fiends! As great as the Ho-rrorday season is, some birthdays get overshadowed because this time of the year. To make up for this, we’re celebrating the totally awesome December horror birthdays today in one big ol’ post! We wish all these wonderful ghouls the best and we hope they have/had the most spooky-cool birthday imaginable! 🙂
TONY TODD: DECEMBER 4, 1954
If there is a man we can describe as the modern Christopher Lee, it’s certainly Tony Todd. Standing at a Sasquatchian 6′ 5″ and possessing a wicked charisma, Mr. Todd is certainly worthy of his reputation as a legend of fright! Mr. Todd’s compelling performance as the titular boogeyman in 1992’s Candyman is the kind of Monster that elicits both fear and an odd sort of sympathy like only the truly great movie creeps can. The great monster would go on to play a plethora of great monsters and madmen, including the eternally classic duo of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! We dare you to say his name five times!
SHIRLEY JACKSON: DECEMBER 14, 1916
The Undisputed Queen of Horror Literature! Ms. Jackson is primarily known for The Haunting of Hill House (the basis for The Haunting) and The Lottery, a truly chilling short story. Genre geniuses Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Richard Matheson have all cited Jackson as an inspiration on their own work and she remains the High Priestess of Printed Chillers. While all of her morbid fiction is prime fright fare, I highly recommend We Have Always Lived in the Castle, one of my all-time favorite novels. The first paragraph is one of the greatest openings ever written and a great example of her peculiar style:
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenent, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.
Thanks for haunting us, Ms. Jackson!
The first paragraph is certainly one of the greatest openings ever written:
SARAH PAULSON: DECEMBER 17, 1974
Sarah Paulson is one of three performers to appear in every single season of American Horror Story and she always emerges as one of highlights in a show bursting with sensationally macabre delights! Throughout the course of the show, she has portrayed a psychic, a perpetually teary-eyed ghost, Siamese Twins with a dark past, a witch, and other victims of the strange and macabre. She also starred on American Gothic in the mid ’90s, so Ms. Paulson is no stranger to the world of Terror-Vision. Of all her wonderfully oddball performances on AHS, it’s her dual performance as the conjoined Dot and Bette in Freak Show that made her a favorite of ours here at Kinky Horror. Two heads are better than one!
FREDDIE FRANCIS: DECEMBER 22, 1912
Here’s a fellow with an eye for horror! While Terence Fisher was Hammer’s Master of Terror, Freddie Francis certainly has an impressive collection of British shockers to his name. His works include 1971’s Tales from the Crypt for Amicus, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, Evil of Frankenstein, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, and Girly. In addition to his Hammer and Amicus terror tales, Mr. Francis had an excellent career as a cinematographer, even winning two Academy Awards! Mr. Francis was also the man who gave The Elephant Man its eerily beautiful look in 1980. For six (including the wraparound) excellent tales of the macabre in one, Check out Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors! Looking creepy, Freddie F.!
DICK MILLER: DECEMBER 25, 1928
Dick Miller is a National Treasure to anyone with a healthy love for exploitation, blood, and gooey ghouls! With his craggy face and distinctive voice, he has graced (and saved) a seemingly endless amount of B-movies with a blue-collar charm all of his own. Horror aficionados will certainly remember his turn as Walter Paisley in Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, a true classic of splatstick! Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ve certainly seen his lovable mug before, as Mr. Miller has appeared in such classics as The Terminator, The Howling, and Gremlins. The affectionate and ever-popular descriptor of “that guy” was practically coined for Miller. Appropriately enough, there is a documentary called That Guy Dick Miller that serves as wonderful tribute this legend and we highly recommend it to both fans and newbies alike. Nice to know That Guy!
BARBARA CRAMPTON: DECEMBER 27, 1958
Barbara Crampton is one of the dreamiest, screamiest scream queens to ever haunt the screen! From her early (and still excellent) work in Re-Animator and From Beyond to her work in modern fare like You’re Next and Beyond the Gates, it’s clear that this scare idol is going strong and will continue to her decades-long reign! Ms. Crampton is one of horror’s best-loved actresses and an inspiration to us here at Kinky Horror. For fans looking for a new Crampton masterpiece, check out her truly excellent turn in We Are Still Here, a modern creeper sure to turn your hair white! Keep up the ghoul work, Ms. Crampton!
F.W. MURNAU: DECEMBER 28, 1888
The Master of Shadows! F.W. Murnau was once called “the greatest poet the screen has ever known” by French film theorist and director Alexandre Astruc, and his dreamlike imagery certainly backs this claim up. Murnau was like a painter, more concerned with the mood and images than the dimensions of his characters. His cinematic paintings have lost none of their power today. Why, just look at enduring popularity of his Nosferatu, his unauthorized adaptation of Dracula! That film is the golden standard of the German Expressionist Accustomed to the weird and eerie, Murnau also directed versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Faust, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Unfortunately, HIs Jekyll and Hyde and Hunchback are lost to time, but his Faust survived and is highly recommended. Hail Murnau!
BARBARA STEELE: DECEMBER 29, 1937
The Scream Queeniest of All Scream Queens! Barbara Steele is up there with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing in the realm of fright legends! Her piercing eyes cut through you like a machete and her dark presence will stick with you long after the credits roll! She’s worked with Vincent Price, Roger Corman, Mario Bava, Joe Dante, and many other titans of terror and she can hold her own with the best Horror has to offer. Her performance in Black Sunday is iconic in every sense of the word and continues to haunt the best of us to this day. Ms. Steele has a gazillion slasherpieces her name, but we highly recommend Long Hair of Death, a lesser-known gothic chiller with great atmosphere and a killer ending that does Wicker Man before Wicker Man! Long Live the Queen!
Howdy, Ho-s! 🙂 It’s the first Sunday after football season, so I’m officially in mourning. Walking Dead premiering tonight helps ease the pain a little (ok..maybe a lot… ;)), but it still feels like a Black Sunday to me (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing ;)).
To help you wallow in the darkness that is this day, here’s a brand spankin’ new Goon Review for ya covering one of my all-time favoritest favorite movies ever, Black Sunday (starring THE Scream Queen of All Scream Queens, Ms. Barbara Steele. <3333333) If you aren’t familiar with this film (shame on you!! ;)), I highly x’s 1000 recommend you check it out. Let’s see if The Goon agrees with me, though… (He will if he knows what’s good for him, anyway. No one talks shite about Miss Steele on my watch!!! ;)) xoxoxo
Considered to be the film that put both gothic goddess Barbara Steele and influential Italian film director Mario Bava on the map, Black Sunday itself arguably set the standards for what we see (or saw for the time) as gothic horror. It’s a dark and dreary film, but beautiful to look at with highly contrasting blacks and whites setting the mood, creating unsettling visuals that you can’t help but to be in awe over.
The film opens with a body tensing execution, as witch Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) has the Mask of Satan pounded onto her face by a giant man dressed as an executioner. Pure nightmare fuel! Just as she is about to be burned, but rain pours from the sky, seemingly out of nowhere. Instead, she is laid to rest in a coffin deep in a tomb, protected by a cross. Before she finally dies, she shouts curses upon her tormentors, swearing to kill the Vajda family. You know, typical witch stuff.
Two hundred years pass as a pair of traveling doctors, Doctor Kruvajan (Andrea Checci) and Gorobec (John Richardson) stumble upon the tomb one night while awaiting repairs on their carriage. The duo incidentally spill a few drops of blood into the coffin while destroying the cross (in what could be viewed now as kinda silly battle with a giant bat), thus awakening and bringing Asa back to life. Her ancestor Katia would make a perfect vessel for her to possess, as she looks identical (of course, this is Barbara Steele in her first duel role). As her ghost tries to influence the two doctors, her loyal servant (Arturo Dominici) tries to dispose of Katia’s father so that they may fulfill their vengeance from two centuries ago.
While I personally regard A Bay of Blood, aka Twitch of the Death Nerve, as my favorite Mario Bava film, it’s Black Sunday that is debatably his finest film and I can’t (and won’t) argue against that. It’s simply one of the most atmospheric films I’ve ever seen. When you sit back and look at the film’s visuals, such as the opening scene of the mask being nailed to Asa’s face, shots of her in the coffin and her servant emerging from the shadows, it really draws out the dreadfulness of the situation while making it remarkably beautiful to look at. The blacks seemingly paint over the lights, detailing structures and facial features like some sort of pulp comic.
Speaking of all the darks used, Barbara Steele, who has dark hair, dark eyes and wears all blacks, stands out visually like she could pop out the screen at any moment. Her performance is noteworthy also, as both the damsel in distress and Katia and as the sinister Asa. While she isn’t at her sexiest, don’t get me wrong… she is still very damn sexy. Everyone else does a nice job as well, especially John Richardson, but you’ll be too focused on Barbara.
As for the disc itself, this is the AIP version of the film, mastered in HD from the original negatives and released on Blu-ray from Kino. The AIP version is what most of us grew up seeing on TV in the 80’s, which has nearly three minutes of footage cut from the movie (mostly pertaining gore), different (and notably worse) voice dubbing and a different score from Les Baxter, which is actually rather fitting for the film. Quality wise, the film looks amazing, as I’m sure you gathered since I’ve gone on and on about how beautiful it looks. Of course, it does have some minor film damage and grain, but it’s nothing to complain about. If anything, it adds to the atmosphere of the film. The sound is very good as well, all dialogue sounding nice and the music is leveled, nothing distorting or sounding overpowering. If you’re looking for extras, however, you may find it bare, as the only thing you will find here is a US theatrical trailer and other Bava film trailers.
When it comes down to it, I would say pick up Kino’s European cut of the film. This is the preferred version of the film, running three minutes longer (adding in those deleted gore shots) and the disc at least offers an audio commentary track. Personally, I also like the soundtrack better and the dubbing isn’t nearly as bad. Not to say that this cut butchers the film, I, like most, prefer the European cut. It’s a shame both cuts of the film aren’t on one single disc, like most films are. Maybe it was a rights issue, but it would be hard to seek this one out and repurchase it if you already own the European cut, unless you’re looking to complete your collection. Still, a remarkable film and either cut is definitely worth having in your collection. I’d consider it mandatory.