An Angel for Satan directed by Camillo Mastrocinque
Although cult actress Barbara Steele appeared in 14 frightening films during the course of her career, the nine Italian Gothic-style pictures that she starred in during the early to mid-’60s are the ones primarily responsible for her current title: the Queen of Horror. Starting with the Mario Bava wonder Black Sunday in 1960, and then on to The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, its sequel The Ghost, Castle of Blood, The Long Hair of Death, Terror Creatures From the Grave, Nightmare Castle, She Beast and finally An Angel for Satan in 1966, Steele’s streak of grisly horror films is one that no actress had enjoyed before … or has surpassed since. The last of those nine, An Angel for Satan, is apparently the true rarity of the bunch, never having been released in any form for home viewing except in its original Italian … and without subtitles. Fortunately, for Barbara’s legion of fans worldwide, the outfit known as Midnight Choir has recently released the film in a gorgeous print, with very adequate subtitling, AND paired with the 1964 film The Long Hair of Death (poorly dubbed) on the same DVD, for one superbly well-matched double feature. A look at Angel will quickly reveal what a wonderful actress Steele had become by the end of this streak, and how deserving the picture was itself for its rescue from relative oblivion.
In the film, a handsome sculptor named Roberto Merigi (solidly portrayed by Anthony Steffen) arrives in the town of Montebruno (in the northern Italian lakes region, I am guessing), in an indeterminate time period (late 1800s?). He has been commissioned by the local Count (Claudio Gora) to restore a statue that had recently been discovered in the town’s lake; strangely enough, the statue is the exact image of the Count’s beautiful young ward, Harriet (played by our Babs), whose ancestor, Madelina, had posed for the statue some 200 years before. Back then, Madelina’s plain-Jane cousin, Belinda, in a jealous rage, had cursed the statue and then been killed by it when the statue toppled into the lake. And now, as Merigi labors to repair the long-lost piece, sweet Harriet seemingly becomes influenced by the spirit of the lustful, hate-filled Belinda! Demon possessed, she soon drives the village idiot to commit rape and murder, wrecks her maid’s romance with the local schoolteacher, destroys the marriage of a father of five, drives a man to suicide and sexually seduces that same maid! No wonder the village is soon referring to Harriet as “la strega” … the witch!
As in several other of these Italian Gothic affairs, here, Steele plays what are essentially two discrete roles, and she is just terrific in both of them. The moments of Belinda possession come on quite suddenly, and Barbara manages the transformations with great finesse indeed. How effectively she conveys the lust and hatred of Belinda! The cunning subterfuges that she concocts to destroy the love and happiness of those around her are truly the products of a wicked mind, and Barbara, pro that she had become by this point, conveys that wickedness with seeming ease. As in all her horror films, Steele steals every scene that she appears in, and is surely the film’s main selling point.
But An Angel for Satan boasts several other winning features. It has been directed with panache by Camillo Mastrocinque, displays some top-notch production values (particularly those lavishly appointed chambers in the Count’s villa), and features a lovely score by Francesco De Masi that alternates with music of a decidedly eerier character. The picture gives us several startling/horrific moments — including the schoolchildren’s discovery of a hanging man, as well as the pitchfork death of an ax-wielding maniac — and one truly bravura, creepy sequence; the one in which the spirit of Belinda speaks to Roberto during a raging thunderstorm, while her face on a painted portrait moves and twitches ever so subtly.
An Angel for Satan would actually be a perfect horror film, I feel, if it weren’t for its final segment, which features a double-twist ending that negates much of the film’s supernatural aura for one of completely unconvincing mundanity; truly, an aberration in Babs’ Gothic canon. Still, the film remains eminently respectable, watchable and fun, and of course a must for all Barbara Steele completists. Despite her modern-day disavowal of the title, a film like this (and its eight predecessors, of course) serves as proof positive that Barbara Steele truly IS “the Queen of Horror”…