B&W, 1964, 96 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Starring Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska, Umberto Raho, Laura Nucci, Giuliano Raffaelli
88 Films (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Raro Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The Italian Gothic horror flood that swept theaters in the '60s created cult icons out of many actors and directors, but none have held quite the sway over the imagination of horror fans as much as Barbara Steele. The centerpiece of Mario Bava's Black Sunday, she showed an affinity for dual roles and the projection of both innocent beauty and malicious evil, often within seconds of each other and with minimal dialogue. Two years after the Bava film she appeared in numerous Italian productions in rapid succession, with more period horror films like The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, The Ghost, and Terror-Creature from the Grave finding new ways to capitalize on her unique screen presence. She also appeared in two films by director Antonio Margheriti, first in the popular Castle of Blood and then in the lesser seen The Long Hair of Death, which was barely given any English-language theatrical exposure and was presumed (incorrectly) to be in the public domain, where it popped up from PD and gray market labels like Sinister Cinema, Eclectic, and Johnny Legend's short-lived Midnight Choir outfit (paired up with another Steele film, An Angel for Satan).
An insidious false accusation of witchcraft turns into tragedy for the Karnstein family, with the matriarch burned at the stake and her desperate daughter, Helen (Steele), murdered when she tries to stop the execution at the hands of the corrupt Count Humboldt (Raffaelli). In the aftermath years later, the younger surviving Karnstein daughter, Elizabeth (Zalewska), has an arranged marriage to the Count's diabolical son, Kurt (Ardisson), who assumes his father's powerful position as a pestilence rages across the land. When a mysterious visitor named Mary (also Steele) appears and lures Kurt into a plot of seduction and murder, he doesn't realize the full extent of the supernatural forces closing around him.
Though it plays its horror cards close to its vest for long stretches of its running time, The Long Hair of Death trots out all the essential ingredients where it counts: a family curse bestowed by an executed witch, a lightning-enhanced resurrection from the grave, dark and cobweb-laden corridors, another dual role for Steele, and best of all, a satisfying and creepy finale worthy of E.C. Comics. The film is a bit too timid and flatly executed to rank with the very best of the era, but it's still loaded with creepy ambiance and makes for a real treat for Steele fans, especially in the second half. Also noteworthy is the score by Carlo Rustichelli, one of the strongest aspects of the film and frequently pilfered for library tracks in subsequent low-budget European horror films.
After decades of substandard releases, two authorized Blu-ray releases of The Long Hair of Death popped up in fairly close proximity, with the first from Raro Video at the end of 2014. The Italian-supplied HD transfer looks fairly solid if a bit soft and filtered, though it's light years ahead of prior versions and restores much of the film's intense atmosphere. LPCM English and Italian mono tracks are included with optional English subtitles, both sounding quite good. Extras include a brief video intro (3m51s) by onetime Fangoria editor Chris Alexander (who also provides liner notes), a video overview of Margheriti's career (10m31s) by his son Edoardo, a second interview about collaborations with the director by screenwriter Antonio Tentori (6m17s), and the English and Italian theatrical trailers, which vary only in their spoken languages and title cards. The 2017 UK release from 88 Films features identical specs for the main feature, with the same audio options and formats as well as the same transfer attributes. The English trailer is included along with a different interview with Edoardo Margheriti interview, "Italian Gothic: The Horrors of Antonio Margheriti" (14m42s), which focuses on his two Steele films along with other noteworthy titles like The Virgin of Nuremberg.
Reviewed on December 6, 2017.