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The Long Hair of Death (1964)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 12/16/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/11/2014
In the 1960s, gothic horror ruled. Following the sci-fi based monster movies of the 50s, these gothic horrors were a throwback to the Universal monster movies of the 30s. The Hammer films from Britain and Roger Corman's Poe-based movies from America were filled with old castles, fog-shrouded settings, curses, and threats from beyond the grave. Apparently, these movies did well, as they came in waves. The Italians weren't going to be left out of this, so they got in on the act as well. Mario Bava's Black Sunday may be the best known of this group, but it's not the only one, as evidenced by the 1964 entry, The Long Hair of Death.
As The Long Hair of Death opens, a woman accused of witchcraft is about to endure a literal trial by fire. Her daughter, Helen Karnstein (Barbara Steele), approaches Count Humboldt (Jean Rafferty), and begs for him to stop the potential execution. He agrees to help her, in exchange for "favors", but the woman is burned to death anyway. As she dies, she curses the Humboldt family. Hoping to tie up any loose ends, Count Humboldt kills Helen, leaving Lisabeth Karnstein, the only surviving member of the family. Years later, Lisabeth (Halina Zalewska) is now a beautiful young woman. Baron Kurt Humboldt (George Ardisson), coerces her into marriage. On the day of their wedding, Helen arises from the grave. Calling her self Mary, she comes to the castle, claiming to be a lost traveler. Kurt is immediately taken with this woman, and turns his attention from Lisabeth to Mary. What plan does Mary have and will she fulfill the curse?
I know that this may sound like blasphemy for a horror fan like myself, but I've never seen Black Sunday. Actually, I'm not big on most pre-1970 horror films, as they simply aren't my thing. So, I may not be the best judge to evaluate The Long Hair of Death. I can say that the plot of Black Sunday sounds very similar to The Long Hair of Death, but having never seen the former film, I could be mistaken. (As an aside, I can tell you that the basic premise of The Long Hair of Death did remind me of Season Four of True Blood.)
Having said all of that, I can tell you that The Long Hair of Death does not deliver in the horror department. The opening, with the accused with being burned may fall under "horrific", but it's not until the very end that we truly get something supernatural. Helen's return from the grave is done in a style which definitely feels like a horror film, as the skull grows skin (through dissolves), but then it's back to reality for the bulk of the movie.
The majority of The Long Hair of Death plays like a medieval melodrama. If you remove the reason why Helen's mother is on trial and the fact that Helen has come back from the dead for revenge, the whole thing feels like a soap opera. Helen offers her body to her older man to save her mother, only to be double-crossed by him. Kurt, the spoiled rich boy and lord of the manor, takes what he wants and forces Lisabeth to marry him, despite her protests. Once he sees Mary though, he decides that he wants Lisabeth out of the picture. Following this, the melodrama shifts into overdrive and the movie becomes a version of Diabolique, as Kurt is not sure if his murderous plan has worked. As noted above, the supernatural elements finally come full circle in the finale, when Mary reveals herself to be a ghost, but this also opens a can of plotholes. Apparently, we missed many, many behind-the-scenes conversations between Mary and other characters in order for her plan to work. The finale may present poetic justice, but it also feels very anti-climactic.
On the technical side, The Long Hair of Death is much more successful. Director Antonio Margheriti and his crew clearly worked to make the film have the same polish as its brethren from other countries. Shot on both sound-stages and in a real castle, the movie has a nice look, as the costumes and props never feel out of place. Likewise, the acting, for the most part is good, as Barbara Steele proves once again why she was known for these types of films. The score is somewhat annoying, as it launches to dizzying highs every few minutes, whether the mood calls for it or not.
Is The Long Hair of Death worth checking out? Well, that depends on what you are looking for. If you want a full-on Italian horror film experience, then I think that you will be sorely disappointed, as this plays more like a costume period drama. (And it certainly doesn't have the decidedly loopy nature which has been found in Raro Video's other recent releases.) Save for a few moments of sensuality and one lightning fast bare breast, this is fairly tame by today's standards. Fans of the gothic may find something to like here, as the film is chock full of crypts and the black and white photography looks fine, but there simply isn't enough meat to the story to grab most viewers.
The Long Hair of Death is yet another example of a crazy Italian movie title on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Raro Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only the slightest hint of grain and no truly notable defects from the source materials. Once again, Raro proves themselves to be the masters of making old movies look brand new with this transfer. While no one would mistake this for a modern movie, the image looks fantastic, as we get great contrast between the light and dark tones. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and several shots show off superior depth. The Disc carries a LPCM 2.0 channel audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.9 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track doesn't display any hissing or popping, but it does sound hollow at times. The quiet moments are somehow "too quiet" and this absence of sound feels odd. Still, we can always hear what we need to hear.
The Long Hair of Death Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We get a "Video Introduction by Chris Alexander, Fangoria Magazine" (4 minutes) in which he gets a bit weird with his fascination with Barbara Steele, and he articulates his love for the film. "Interview to (sic) Edoardo Margheriti" (11 minutes) takes place in Dario Argento's museum, so...that's cool. The son of Antonio Margheriti, he talks about his father's work, specifically The Long Hair of Death. He shares some fairly detailed notes about the making of the film. "Interview to (sic) Antonio Tetori (6 minutes) has the Italian screenwriter (I had to look him up, as this interview doesn't say who he is) give an overview of Margheriti's work and then talk about The Long Hair of Death and how it relates to other Italian gothic horror movies of the time. The extras are rounded out by the Italian TRAILER and the English TRAILER.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long