Where in the Horror are they Now? Barbara Steele!

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

barbara steele black sunday horror where in the horror are they now mario bava italian horror


THEN: What I love about writing this particular column is revisiting some of my favorite genre talents and catching flicks that I’ve either forgotten or missed. This weeks subject is an iconic face in horror, one that also happened to be a part of a number of classics. With a career beginning in the late Fifties, this weeks subject is an important part of horror history. Now if you’ve been reading this column, you know we try to cover as much as we can of their career in a few paragraphs. However, this week I’m going to mainly focus on some of my personal favorites, popular or no. The simple reason for this… there is way too much scary to fully cover. So let’s start shall we?

In 1958, the seductive beauty Barbara Steele was featured in a couple of big screen comedies, HOUSEBOAT and BACHELOR OF HEARTS. In fact, the actress was often cast for the funny throughout her career. Yet it was 1960 when she captivated audiences in one of the all-time great shockers, BLACK SUNDAY (original title La maschera del demonio). The story of a witch and her servant that arise from the grave to cause a little trouble for a beautiful descendant is a brilliant tale of terror. You can certainly credit famed director Mario Bava for this classic, but you can also give major props to his leading lady. Steele is phenomenal in a dual role as the witch, and as the woman she wants to possess. If you’ve not taken this one in, Halloween is coming up and this is a perfect flick to add to any October viewing.

After her success in BLACK SUNDAY, Steele took on Edgar Allan Poe in Roger Corman’s PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) and joined in for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that same year. In 1962, she was up against THE HORRIBLE DR. HITCHCOCK and in 1963 she took a break from spooks to star in the Federico Fellini masterpiece 8 1/2. In 1964 she starred in CASTLE OF BLOOD and THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH. The next year brought audiences to NIGHTMARE CASTLE and TERROR – CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE. And in 1965, you could find her along side Geraldine Chaplin, Susannah York and Maximilian Schell in THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVIL.

After a number of thrillers, the actress moved into the Seventies fully embracing the dark and haunting stories. While not straight horror, she was featured in the cult women’s prison exploitation flick CAGED HEAT (1974). More importantly, the following year brought Ms. Steele into the vision of David Cronenberg. In the highly strange and sexualized SHIVERS, Barbara was featured as one of the many residents in a high-rise apartment building that soon becomes a nightmarish home to parasites and sexual depravity. This is a brilliant film that is perhaps one of my favorites from the director. It’s a weird and wonderful ride that is as ferociously f*cked up as it is fascinating. Any fan of Cronenberg that hasn’t witnessed this should remedy that right away.

the silent scream slasher 1979 horror barbara steele where in the horror are they now

One of my favorite periods when it came to Ms. Steele’s career has to be the late Seventies. In 1978 you could find the actress in the Louis Malle flick PRETTY BABY. Featuring a young Brooke Shields, this may not be considered a horror film, but it sure has an impact. Thankfully, that same year you could find Barbara battling a vicious strain of gilled man-eaters in the Joe Dante classic PIRANHA. I love everything about this movie, and with summer coming to an end, why not re-watch a bunch of fish chowing down on kids at a summer camp? If you’ve only seen the Alexandre Aja remake, you really should see the first. Of course it is a JAWS ripoff, but it's a successful one thanks to its humor and clever script by John Sayles – with a story by Richard Robinson.

Finally, I want to give a ton of props to a little known slasher flick that came out in 1979. THE SILENT SCREAM, in my humble opinion, deserves a whole lot more respect. This genuinely spooky story featuring a knife-wielding maniac in a seaside mansion is eloquent, shocking and suspenseful. It also features a couple of solid genre names from that period including Cameron Mitchell and Rebecca Balding. Part slasher and part murder mystery, this is the type of flick that makes this period in horror movie history all the more enticing. Perhaps if you aren’t in love with slow burning slasher movies, you may not cozy up with this, but if you are I highly recommend letting this SCREAM seep into your movie watching plans.

barbara steele the butterfly room horror where in the horror are they now shivers the silent scream black sunday

NOW: Barbara Steele took things easy for a bit during the Eighties and Nineties aside from a feature or two. However, thanks to the current love for all things classic in genre, a new decade brought the actress back in front of cameras. In 2008 she appeared in HER MORBID DESIRES and THE BONEYARD COLLECTION. In 2012, she was featured in THE BUTTERFLY ROOM. And in 2014, you could find her in Ryan Gosling’s LOST RIVER – the only film that Gosling has written and directed. Steele joined an impressive cast with this one including the lovely Christina Hendricks, as well as Matt Smith and Saoirse Rowan.

While the actress hasn’t been doing a ton lately, she has a couple of recent scary shorts. There is The Shutterbug Man (2014), The Mill at Calder’s End (2015) and Le Fantôme (2016). You could also find her in 2016’s MINUTES PAST MIDNIGHT – which according to IMDb is simply an anthology featuring her short The Mill at Calder’s End where she was cast as “the apparition of the mill.” Now if you look on Twitter, you can find one account that appears to be her – but it isn’t verified and there are very few followers which would surprise me. Barbara Steele is one of those names genre fans will never forget, and for good reason. If you haven’t checked out THE SILENT SCREAM, SHIVERS, BLACK SUNDAY or PIRANHA, I highly recommend you do very soon.

Source: AITH

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JimmyO is one of JoBlo.com’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.