THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (aka I lunghi capelli della morte) (1965)
Director: Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson)
Starring: Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska, and Giuliano Raffaelli (as Jean Rafferty)
Viewed: Streaming via Kanopy
Near the end of the 15th century in a “vaguely German Medieval world,” a woman (Zalewska) who spurned the affections of Count Humboldt (Raffaelli) is accused of killing the count’s brother and put on trial by fire as a witch. Just before she is dramatically engulfed in flames, clinging to a cross made of rough wood—her younger daughter Lisabeth Karnstein watching—she curses the count and foretells that a plague will descend. (The riveting opening scenes hark back to the 1949 Carmine Gallone melodrama Il Trovatore, based on Giuseppe Verdi’s 1853 opera. The movie, however, was reportedly based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla.) Meanwhile, the count forces himself on her older daughter Mary Karnstein (Steele), who came out of hiding to plead her mother’s case—and then pushes Mary to her death from the top of a waterfall to keep the secret of his infidelity safe. Lisabeth’s nursemaid surreptitiously buries the ashes of the mother with Mary’s body so Lisabeth can grow up knowing where her family’s remains lie.
Fade to the turn of the century and the onset of a plague—as predicted!—and the orphaned Lisabeth has indeed grown up, now mature and the very likeness of her mother (played by the same actress, Zalewska, even). She unwillingly draws the attentions and affections of Baron Kurt Humboldt (Ardisson), who manipulates her into marriage and proceeds to abuse her emotionally and physically. His father, the count, has become elderly and is now fearful of his impending curse, and ailing—more so once he learns that his son, the baron, not the “witch,” actually killed his brother (because he was going to be disowned). During an intense thunderstorm, lightning strikes the secret grave, and the older sister Mary comes back to life in a wonderful special effects sequence. “I lunghi capelli della morte… explored a murderous past that stalks a present,” wrote Andrew Mangravite in Film Comment. “Italy is, after all, a very old country, with ghosts to spare.”
Taken in by the castle occupants to escape the storm and plague, the lightning-raised Mary adopts the persona of a traveler, attracting the lusts of the baron (now married to her younger sister Lisabeth, remember). “A typical situation of the Gothic filone requires that a living person fall in love with a dead one, or vice versa,” wrote Roberto Curti. A love scene between the baron and Steele’s vengeful traveler from beyond the grave includes moments of partial nudity; however, a body double took Steele’s place for that scene. The lovers conspire to suffocate Mary (shades of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado) so the baron is free to remarry—infidelity is a sin—but things don’t go quite as planned. Nevertheless, after various machinations and some increasingly fevered acting by Ardisson, Mary’s family retribution goes exactly as planned—and as predicted by her mother.
The Long Hair of Death—Margheriti’s third gothic, and his second movie with Steele—is subtle and slowly paced, perfectly suiting the gothic storyline and setting. The movie was filmed at Cinecittà Studios in Rome, as well as Castle Massimo in Arsoli in a span of three weeks. “[F]or Margheriti and cameraman Riccardo Pallotini to conjure up 1499 as a carnival of plague-stricken beggars, corpses ‘animated’ by their resident mice, and grotesque burning effigies … was a feat,” Mangravite wrote. “Margheriti’s gothics were atmospheric triumphs in black and white.”
The film, then, aims for moody suspense and guilt-ridden terror rather than overt shocks or gore, accentuated by minimal yet excellent special effects (the witch’s burning, Mary’s supernatural reconstitution, the movements of a corpse, and Mary’s spectral comings and goings in the tombs of the castle). There are secret doors within fireplaces, hidden stairways, underground crypts and skeletons, a box of poisonous powder, and plenty of dark, foreboding ambience. The women do have long hair. And Death walks among them. (HR)
Note: At one time the most rare Steele movie in America, the film was previously only available on a Sinister Cinema video tape. The movie is now available on a Raro Video DVD and Blu-Ray. Sinister still offers an English-dubbed version with English opening titles on DVD and VHS. Several double-feature DVDs are also available, with An Angel for Satan (Midnight Choir), with Fangs of the Living Dead (Alpha Video), and with Terror Creatures from the Grave (East West Entertainment). Carlo Rustichelli’s original soundtrack is also available on CD and LP.
Blumenstock, Peter, “Margheriti: The Wild, Wild Interview, Video Watchdog #28, 1995: 42-61.
“Carlo Rustichelli: I Lunghi Capelli Della Morte LP,” Two Headed Dog, Two Headed Dog, https://www.twoheadeddog.com/carlo-rustichelli-i-lunghi-capelli-della-morte-lp/, accessed March 22, 2019.
Curti, Roberto. Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2015.
Ellinger, Kat, “The Long Hair of Death, aka I lunghi capelli della morte (US Blu-Ray Review),” Diabolique Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, https://diaboliquemagazine.com/long-hair-death-aka-lunghi-capelli-della-morte-us-blu-ray-review/, accessed March 22, 2019.
Hardy, Phil, ed., The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror, Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press, 1995.
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“The Long Hair of Death,” SinisterCinema.com, Sinister Cinema, http://www.sinistercinema.com/product.asp?specific=32274, accessed March 22, 2019.
“The Long Hair of Death / An Angel For Satan,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2CoZyW4, accessed March 22, 2019.
“The Long Hair of Death / Fangs of the Living Dead,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2TWLNI5, accessed March 22, 2019.
“The Long Hair of Death / Terror Creatures from the Grave,” Amazon, Amazon.com Inc., https://amzn.to/2FdhnYW, accessed March 22, 2019.
Mangravite, Andrew, “Once Upon a Time in the Crypt,” Film Comment, January 1993: 50-52, 59-60.
O’Neill, James, Terror on Tape, New York City: Billboard Books, 1994.
Weldon, Michael J., The Psychotronic Video Guide, New York City: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996.
NW: Nate Wilson DC: Devon Cahill HR: Heath Row MA: Matt Average