Wednesday is upon us again my Little Monsters and with that our weekly celebration of a wonderful Woman of Horror. This week’s lovely lady just seems to have been born to be part of our beloved horror genre…almost as if she stepped right off the pages of a Gothic horror story. She’s a distinctive beauty whose facial expressions can effortlessly create a semblance of innocence or malevolence. Of course by now you know I am obviously speaking of the legendary Barbara Steele.
Barbara hails from England, the birthplace of Gothic horror. More specifically, she was born in the Merseyside town of Birkenhead, just across the river from Liverpool. Barbara began honing her craft while studying at London’s Chelsea College of Arts, before moving on to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, France.
She made her small and big screen debuts in the same year with an appearance on the BBC One series, Dial 999 and then with an uncredited part in the romantic comedy Houseboat, which starred Cary Grant and Sophia Loren. Barbara’s versatility was already established as she early on in her career with roles in films like Bachelor of Hearts, Upstairs and Downstairs, and Your Money or Your Wife. But as her career progressed through the 60’s and 70’s, Barbara became a fixture in the horror genre. During that time she worked with directors like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Riccardo Freda, Federico Fellini, Roger Corman, David Cronenberg and Joe Dante. Barbara also had the opportunity to share the screen with three legendary leading men of the horror genre: Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee. She also very nearly starred opposite Elvis Presley in the 1960 movie Flaming Star, before walking off of the set when conflict arose between the film’s director, Don Siegel, and herself. Some of her more memorable performances came in such genre classics like Black Sunday, The Pit and the Pendulum, Castle of Blood, The Crimson Cult/ Curse of the Crimson Altar, Shivers and Piranha.
Of Barbara’s nearly 70 screen credits, over 50 of them came before 1980. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Barbara was semi-retired and appeared in two TV mini-series, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, as well as ABC’s 1991 revival of the vampire series Dark Shadows. She also had roles in the 1991 Austrian film Tief Oben (High Above), the straight to video release of Prophet and also very nearly appeared as Dr. Moreau’s wife in Richard Stanley’s ill-fated adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau, before John Frankenheimer took over directing duties.
Over the past ten years, Barbara has returned to the genre lending her talent to three short films and five features, the most recent being the 2016 horror anthology, Minutes Past Midnight. She has also appeared and discussed her genre contributions in actor/writer Mark Gatiss’ (BBC’s Sherlock) 2010 horror documentary series for the BBC, A History of Horror and its 2012 follow up Horror Europa. According to IMDb, Barbara doesn’t have any projects on the horizon, BUT I sincerely hope that will change very soon…especially if it’s a horror film.
From 1969 to 1978, Barbara was married to the American screenwriter James Poe. The two had one child together, a son named Jonathan Jackson Poe. There is no indication of any relation between the gothic horror writer Edgar Allan Poe and Barbara’s late ex-husband James, but it seems fitting that her son would share the last name of the author of a story that was adapted into a film in which she starred (The Pit and the Pendulum).
Barbara was scheduled to appear at Horrorhound Weekend in Columbus, Ohio, on November 3rd through the 5th, but just recently had to cancel. With any luck, the folks at Horrorhound will be able to reschedule her for their Cincinnati convention next March or possibly the Indianapolis convention next September. So let’s all keep our fingers crossed, since it would be an incredible experience to meet this legendary horror icon and “Queen of All Scream Queens”.
So, my Little Monsters, in signing off, I’d like to remind you that when fate comes a knockin’…answer the door. BUT, make sure you do it while wielding a baseball bat, because in this world we live in…we NEVER really know what fate has in store for us. Just kidding…but seriously.
Following its acclaimed festival run and taking home the Grand Jury Award at this year's SXSW festival,...