Dark-eyed British actress Barbara Steele had the perfect face for horror. Though the Rank Organization starlet had been imported to the United States by 20th Century Fox to play Elvis Presley’s love interest in “Flaming Star” (1960), Steele proved an ill-fit for the Hollywood cookie cutter and was replaced after a week of shooting. An actor’s strike drove Steele back to Europe, where her haunting beauty was used to good effect in a string of Gothic horror films, beginning with Mario Bava’s “Black Sunday” (1960). In the ensuing years, Steele skulked through such lurid chillers as “The Horrible Dr. Hichcock” (1962), “Castle of Blood” (1964) and “Terror-Creatures from Beyond the Grave” (1965), in which she brought sex appeal to characters of both pure and dark motives. Federico Fellini found a place for the slinky actress in his masterful “8-1/2” (1963) while German New Wave director Volker Schlöndorff offered Steele one of her better roles in “Young Törless” (1966), but the glut of cheap European fright flicks in which she found herself mired drove Steele back to North America. No longer an ingénue, she married a Hollywood screenwriter and cashed in on her cult credibility with meaty roles in Jonathan Demme’s “Caged Heat” (1974), David Cronenberg’s “Shivers” (1975) and Joe Dante’s “Piranha” (1978). Finding a measure of artistic satisfaction behind the camera, Steele won an Emmy as the producer of the 1988 miniseries “War and Remembrance” while learning to enjoy her lifetime association as horror cinema’s reigning scream queen.
The above TCM overview can also be accessed online here.