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February 05, 2006

The Ghost


Lo Spettro
Riccardo Freda - 1963
Retromedia Entertainment DVD

There is one person who I will see in anything - good, bad, indifferent, and that is Barbara Steele. For all I know, she has a way of hynotizing people watching her films with those big eyes usually seen in paintings by Margaret Keane. Mario Bava has been noted as remarking that when Steele's face was lit a certain way it resembled a skull. Proof that she mesmerized teenage boys who were old enough to see Black Sunday when it was first released is evidenced by films by Jonathan Demme, David Cronenberg and Joe Dante. For my periodic fix of Barbara Steele, the DVDs available are filling in where one once could depend on late-night local television.

The Ghost was directed by Riccardo Freda under his English-language psuedonym of Robert Hampton. As was frequently done at the time, this Italian production was released with the cast and crew taking on British sounding names to better market themselves at a time when Hammer and Roger Corman's Poe films were at the height of their popularity. Freda is certainly due for a more complete review, his reputation having been eclipsed by Bava who took over directing I Vampiri, the first Italian horror film made in the sound era. In The Ghost, Steele portrays Margaret, the wife of Dr. Hitchcock (!), a doctor suffering from a paralysis that his best friend, Dr. Livingstone (!!) is suppose to cure. As it turns out, Margaret and Dr. Livingstone have been having an affair. The lovers connive against Dr. Hitchcock who tries to prove that you can take it with you.

The bar was raised pretty high with Black Sunday. No film since then has come close to being a genre masterpiece although there have been some honorable attempts. The Ghost is a bit sluggish in spots but is nicely photographed. This was the first of Steele's Italian horror films to be shot in color. Even if the narrative can be anticipated after years of watching Italian horror movies, the twists and turns lead to a satisfying conclusion. Sometimes cliches can be reassuring, which is why for me, a horror movie with Barbara Steele is like the cinematic equivalent to comfort food.

Posted by peter at February 5, 2006 02:13 PM