Like many of my fellow Americans I’m enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday so I’ve been distracted by family, good food and drink. But I wanted to take a moment to shine a spotlight on The First Leading Lady of British Horror, Barbara Shelley.
Barbara starred in no less than eight Hammer films that I’m aware of including Mantrap (1953), The Camp on Blood Island (1958), Shadow of the Cat (1961), The Gorgon (1964), The Secret of Blood Island (1964) Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) and Quatermass and the Pit (1967). She’s easily one of the most talented actresses that worked with the studio during the ’60s but her name isn’t as well known as many of her female costars. Her earthy beauty, seductive voice, natural grace and impressive acting abilities made her standout among her contemporaries and it’s surprising that she didn’t become a bigger and better known star. She was terrific in the horror films she made for Hammer as well as other studios which earned her the title of “The First Leading Lady of British Horror.” And she also appeared in some of Britain’s best television shows such as Danger Man, The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Dr. Who but it’s a shame that she’s not better known outside of the UK.
My favorite Barbara Shelley performance can be found in the 1966 Hammer film Dracula: Prince of Darkness. In the movie Barbara plays a prim and proper British lady who turns into a bloodthirsty vampire. In an effort to keep the Hammer Glamour activities alive and well here at Cinebeats I thought I’d repost a link to my lengthy appreciation of Barbara’s standout performance in the film that I wrote back in 2007 called The Lady Is a Vamp.
Barbara Shelley in . . .
Top: The Secret of Blood Island (1964)/Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Bottom: Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)/Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
Barbara Shelley is still alive and well but she retired from acting in the late ’80s. She seemed rather reserved in the recent Hammer Glamour book, but most recently she participated in the DVD commentary for the British horror film Ghost Story which I wrote about earlier this month. I wish Barbara Shelley would follow in Raquel Welch’s footsteps and consider writing her own memoirs. During her lengthy acting career Barbara appeared in films with such celebrated actors as Gloria Swanson and George Sanders. She also worked with other important genre directors like Val Guest and Sergio Corbucci. During her years with Hammer studio Barbara worked almost exclusively with director Terence Fisher and appeared in films with popular Hammer stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing so I’m sure her insights and commentary on “The Studio That Dripped Blood” would prove invaluable to horror fans.