Bloofer Lady: Barbara Steele
October is proving a busy month for me, but it's not going to go by without the annual salutation to a spooktacular saucepot, a hottie of vintage horror. Because otherwise, what's the point of the month at all?
The 1960s was a wonderful time for horror fans: here in the UK we had the rise of Hammer. And over in Italy, it saw the rise of a number of great directors, including 'master of the macabre' Mario Bava. Bava's official directorial debut was Black Sunday, and in the dual role of Princess Katia Vajda and witch Asa Vajda he cast Birkenhead-born beauty Barbara Steele. The following year she played Elizabeth Barnard Medina in Roger Corman's The Pit And The Pendulum, which starred last year's Bloofer Gent Vincent Price. And if her career had stopped there, she'd still have stopped enough hearts to ensure her place in horror history.
But no! Till the late 1960s Barbara Steele carved a bloody trail through Italian horror cinema, from The Horrible Dr Hichcock to The Long Hair of Death (another double role) to An Angel For Satan (a double again – directors couldn't get enough of this horrifying hottie) and many more besides. If her output became less prolific after the late 1960s, her standards remained high and she worked with many other horror legends. She returned to Britain for Curse Of The Crimson Altar alongside Christopher Lee (Bloofer Gent, 2015) and Boris Karloff. In 1975 she was in Shivers, directed by David Cronenberg. And only this year she provided the voice for Miranda in the vampire-themed animation Castlevania.
What was it that made her so compelling? Those huge, dark, widely-spaced eyes that could express utter horror or deepest evil? Cheekbones sharper than a sinister stalker's knife? A river of midnight hair Morticia Addams would envy? Gorgeously gruesome she was, it is true. But she also had talent in spades. Enough spades to fill a Bava's dozen graves.