Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
Raro Video Double Feature

The Long Hair of Death


In a 15th-century feudal village, a woman is accused of witchcraft and put to death. Her beautiful older daughter knows the real reason for the execution lies in the lord's sexual desire for her mother. After confronting the lord on the matter, she, too, is killed. A much younger daughter is spared and taken in by her mother's killers. Once she is of age, as a horrible, deadly plague sweeps the land, she marries the lord's worthless son. Then, during a brutal thunderstorm, the older daughter mysteriously reappears and begins to avenge her mother's death. (From Raro’s official synopsis)

Director Antonio Margheriti (often credited as Anthony M. Dawson) spent most of his career at the mercy of subpar scripts and minuscule budgets. The state of the Italian film industry throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s dictated that his skills be mostly applied to rushed genre rip-offs, which led casual viewers to assume the worst about his filmmaking abilities. The truth is that he was one of the most talented working-class filmmakers in Italy and even his worst films display significant technical artistry. Unlike Dario Argento, Mario Bava, and Lucio Fulci, he never really committed himself to a trademark genre and usually avoided personalizing his imagery, which probably accounts for his extended mainstream obscurity. With little fanfare, he made some of the best gialli (including Naked You Die, 1968), spaghetti westerns (including And God Said to Cain, 1970), ‘macaroni combats’ (including Code Name: Wild Geese, 1984), and Indiana Jones rip-offs (including Ark of the Sun God, 1983) ever released. He also made the first space-bound Italian sci-fi movie, Assignment Outer Space (aka: Space Man, 1960). However, his enduring legacy probably lies within a ‘trilogy’ of early gothic horror films, beginning with Castle of Blood (aka: Danza Macabra, 1963), continuing with The Virgin of Nuremberg (aka: Horror Castle, 1963), and culminating with The Long Hair of Death (aka: I Lunghi Capelli della Morte, 1964).

Of course, even these ‘signature’ works were commissioned in response to the popularity of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960). Castle of Blood and Virgin of Nuremberg share mostly stylistic and thematic similarities with Black Sunday, but The Long Hair of Death is definitely a companion piece – both films include unjust executions of vengeful witches, familial curses, and fireplaces that lead to secret passages. The screenplay, by Margheriti and spaghetti western/giallo writers Tonino Valerii and Ernesto Gastaldi, is muddled in typically convoluted period melodrama, but offers enough grand horror spectacle to counteract the compounded double-crosses and unnecessarily elaborate evil schemes (it kind of seems like they each had a different movie in mind, then added a bunch of Black Sunday stuff after the fact). Margheriti and cinematographer Massimo Pupillo (a frequent collaborator who shot all three of the director’s gothic fantasies) don’t quite have Bava’s perfect eye or his patience for meticulously designed, multi-plane compositions, but their images are still quite striking. What he lacks in precision, Marghariti often makes up for in skin-crawling imagery, specifically a shot of a rotting body covered in gnarled, greasy hair.

The aptly named British actress Barbara Steele is a key component in any post- Black Sunday macaroni horror flick. Following her star-making part in Bava’s movie, Steele became the favourite femme fatale and appeared in Riccardo Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock (1962), Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle (1965), and Massimo Pupillo’s Terror-Creatures from the Grave (1965), among others. Margheriti had also used her for Castle of Blood, but specifically cast her in a dual role here, recreating the multi-generational part she played in Black Sunday. Both films also feature gooey resurrection sequences where flesh reforms onto a skull to become Steele’s granite, bug-eyed face.

Like many of Margheriti’s other early features, Long Hair of Death has had a sketchy copyright history and has been available on a number of VHS-quality ‘budget’ DVD sets (as well as Amazon Prime streaming). An official anamorphic release was never made available in North America. In fact, the only anamorphic version I’m aware of is a French release. Clearly, there was a lot of room for improvement. Raro’s new 1080p Blu-ray is the first HD release in any territory. The moody black & white photography has been framed at a more theatrically accurate 1.85:1, rather than the 1.66:1 aspect ratio of the non-anamorphic DVDs (a couple of facial close-ups look a bit vertically stretched to me). The image quality is pretty consistent throughout with only minor blotches and scratches popping up (there is some blobby water damage around the one-hour mark). The relative lack of grain and soft edges/blends leads me to believe that the disc’s producers have overdone the DNR a smidge during restoration. This apparent digital tinkering hasn’t really damaged the textural complexities or the dynamic gradations. Occasionally, over-cranked white levels and some minor edge enhancement effects are more problematic, but, again, not enough to dull the impact of this sizable upgrade.

Raro has included the original Italian and English dubs, and presents both in LPCM 2.0 mono. The dialogue is dubbed either way, so the choice between the tracks is largely an aesthetic one (Steele does not dub herself, despite speaking English while acting, and there’s a bit of narrative dialogue that only shows up on the Italian version). Both tracks are plenty loud, especially any scene that leans heavily on Carlo Rustichelli’s mournful, death dirge musical score, and share basic sound design without any major bouts of distortion. The Italian track has a slight edge in terms of overall volume, while the English dub loses some points for a couple muffled lines of dialogue.

Extras:
  • Introduction by Fangoria Magazine editor Chris Alexander (3:50, SD)
  • Interview with Margheriti’s son, Edoardo (10:30, SD)
  • Interview with Italian horror writer Antonio Tentori (6:20, HD)
  • English and Italian trailers


 Raro Video Double Feature

 Raro Video Double Feature

 Raro Video Double Feature

 Raro Video Double Feature

 Raro Video Double Feature


Raro Video Double Feature

Slaughter Hotel


A world-renowned institute for mentally disturbed women (note: not a hotel) – most of which are sexy and seem to be afflicted with sex addiction – is turned upside down when a black-hooded killer begins murdering the staff and patients.

Antonio Margheriti’s real skill was often concealed beneath the quality of the cheap and quick movies he was hired to make, but he has enjoyed a strong following for many years and a lot of his filmography has been readily available since the advent of home video. Writer/director Fernando Di Leo, on the other hand, is a cult filmmaker that even cult viewers have managed to overlook. For decades, his lasting mark on Italian cinema was a series of writing credits on Sergio Corbucci and Lucio Fulci’s spaghetti westerns (his work on Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More was uncredited). Thanks to the efforts of fans, like Quentin Tarantino, and the fine folks at Raro Video, whose early Blu-ray line was almost exclusively devoted to his work, Di Leo’s stylish and brutal brand of cinema has been given its proper due. Most aficionados will tell you that his poliziotteschi (aka: Euro-crime or Italian crime) movies are his masterpieces and, as a genre novice, I’m happy to take their word for it. But, before he found his groove with gangster stories, Di Leo dabbled in soft-core melodrama with Brucia, Ragazzo, Brucia (aka: Burn, Boy, Burn, 1969) and A Wrong Way to Love (1969), then directed a pair of sleazy gialli, Naked Violence (aka: I Ragazzi del Massacro, 1969) and Slaughter Hotel (aka: La Bestia Uccide a Sangue Freddo and Asylum Erotica, a much more appropriate title, 1971).

The sleaze factor in Italian thrillers escalated quickly following the success of Argento’s relatively chaste Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969). Headed by filmmakers like Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi, Andrea Bianchi, and, of course, Lucio Fulci, things got obscene. The plots grew more convoluted, the murder set-pieces turned bloodier, and the sex scenes pushed the boundaries as far as the Italian censors would allow – sometimes even beyond, for the sake of international distribution. It wasn’t uncommon for multiple cuts of a given film to be floating around. In the case of Slaughter Hotel, there are at least three cuts – the standard cut, complete with all of the violence and most of the nudity; the UK cut, which was trimmed to ribbons by the BBFC; and the ‘X-rated’ cut, which includes naughty insert shots during some of the masturbation and lesbian sex scenes. I usually champion uncut releases, but the close-ups of fondled lady-parts were clearly added after the fact with unconvincing body doubles, so it’s pretty distracting. Still, given the mélange of vulgarity pumping throughout the film, the inserts don’t really feel out of place.

More entertaining than the sex and violence, however, are Di Leo’s vulgar attempts at artistry. Every single scene is overrun with wacky angles, dramatic widescreen framing, weirdly-timed crash zooms, and Amedeo Giomini’s hyperactive editing. In this universe, a simple croquet game is given the same visual flash as an extended murder sequence. Some viewers may find the frenetic filmmaking overwrought and exhausting, but comedically over-stylized, crass imagery is a vital component to this brand of Italian thriller, more so than even the slaughter scenes and intricate mysteries. In this case, the plot – which is basically a set-up for a porno that never happens and filled with psychosexual gibberish and a murderous subplot that never really goes anywhere – is frustratingly uninteresting, so the style becomes the substance and carries the movie along. Di Leo isn’t an artist on par with his contemporaries, but what he lacks in skill he makes up for in enthusiasm. The killer’s final murder(s) and demise are truly spectacular trash filmmaking.

Slaughter Hotel was previously released on PAL DVD in Italy by Raro and on NTSC DVD by Media Blasters, under their Shriek Show imprint. According to their Facebook page, Media Blasters is still in business, but it’s safe to say that Shriek Show is dead, which might not be the worst news for some of their catalogue titles. Despite releasing a veritable treasure trove of must-own Italian horror DVDs, their Blu-ray output, specifically Beyond the Darkness, Zombie Holocaust, and Burial Ground, has been very disappointing. Raro’s Blu-ray reputation is much better and Slaughter Hotel fits nicely with their other Di Leo releases. This 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer shows minor signs of CRT machine noise (similar to the kind that marred Blue Underground and Arrow’s early Italian horror releases) and what appear to be DNR effects (once again, grain levels are somewhat unnatural and some of the smoother gradations are a bit lumpy), but is otherwise a substantial upgrade. Elements are well-separated and textures are complex without any notable edge haloes. The colour quality is much more vivid than the slightly washy DVD, including searing reds, smooth blues, natural skin tones, and lush greens. The gamma/contrast levels seem accurate for type. The brighter daylight images do feature some over-cooked white levels, but blacks are consistent and strong without crushing finer details.

Raro has, once again, included both the original mono Italian and English dubs in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, rather than PCM. This time, the English track is notably stronger in terms of clarity, volume, and depth of sound. Silvano Spadaccino’s eclectic and eccentric score features more smooth low-end and complex noise, and the effects/dialogue tend to blend together more naturally. The Italian track has louder dialogue that falls victim to more high-end distortion and crackle. However, the English track does include some audio drop-out where some of the original tracks appear to have been lost. This is a huge problem during the crossbow murder towards the end of the film. From the 1:17:01 mark to the 1:18:16, then again from 1:27:57 to 1:28:18, there is zero sound on the English dub.

Extras include:
  • Lady Frankenstein’s Memoirs (18:50, SD) – An interview with actress Rosalba Neri about her career in Italian exploitation.
  • Asylum of Fear (13:50, SD) – A behind-the-scenes discussion with Neri and director Di Leo, and composer Silvano Spadaccino.
  • Deleted scenes from the French version of the film (2:20, HD) – These are, unsurprisingly, mostly sex scenes, but were not included with the final Blu-ray cut due to their image quality


 Raro Video Double Feature

 Raro Video Double Feature

 Raro Video Double Feature

 Raro Video Double Feature

 Raro Video Double Feature

Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: