Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in horror movies.
Up today it’s Barbara Shelley, a woman whose talent and beauty adorned some of Hammer Films’ best shockers. Of course, Shelley starred in more than just Hammer horror movies, appearing in all sorts of movies and TV shows as well. Here’s a partial look at her long and successful career, focusing mostly on her horror films:
MAN IN HIDING (1953) – Barbara Shelley’s first screen credit, under her real name, as Barbara Kowin, in this British whodunit murder mystery starring Paul Henreid and Lois Maxwell.
BALLATA TRAGICA (1954) – Betty Mason- Shelley’s first credit as Barbara Shelley in this Italian crime drama.
CAT GIRL (1957) – Leonora Johnson- Shelley’s first horror movie, a variation of the more famous CAT PEOPLE (1942), where she plays a young woman affected by a family curse that warns she will turn into a murderous leopard when angered. Some girls have all the fun.
BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1958) – Madeleine – One of my favorite Barbara Shelley movies, this atmospheric horror movie about a mad scientist named Dr. Callistratus (Donald Wolfit) conducting strange blood experiments in a creepy prison is a subtle exercise in “thinking man’s horror.” It looks and plays like a Hammer Film, but it’s not, but it was written by Jimmy Sangster, who wrote some of Hammer’s best shockers.
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) – Anthea Zellaby – Probably my favorite Barbara Shelley movie, this science fiction classic about the strange children with the glowing eyes is one of the best science fiction horror movies ever made. Also stars George Sanders, Michael Gwynn, and Laurence Naismith.
THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961) – Beth Venable – Shelley’s first Hammer Film, another cat tale involving murder and the supernatural. Also starring Andre Morrell and Freda Jackson.
THE SAINT (1962) – Valerie North – appeared in the episode “The Covetous Headsman” of this classic TV show starring Roger Moore.
THE GORGON (1964) – Carla Hoffman- co-stars with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in this Hammer shocker that is topnotch throughout except for an ending that exposes some very weak special effects when the titlular monster is finally shown on screen. Major role for Shelley, as her character is integral to the plot. Directed by Hammer’s best director, Terence Fisher.
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (1965) – Bryn Watson – starred in the episode “The Odd Man Affair” of this classic secret agent TV show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.
DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Helen Kent – Becomes Dracula’s victim in this excellent Hammer Dracula movie, the first direct sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) with Christopher Lee reprising his role as Dracula once again. Also starring Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Thorley Walters, and Philip Latham. Directed by Terence Fisher.
RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Sonia – Reunited with DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS co-stars Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer in this Hammer Film which also used the same sets from that DRACULA sequel.
THE AVENGERS (1961-1967) – Venus/Susan Summers – “From Venus With Love” (1967)/ “Dragonsfield” (1961)- Two appearances on the spy TV series starring Patrick Macnee.
FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967)- Barbara Judd – Classic Hammer science fiction movie, part of their Quatermass series, originally titled QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. Stars Andrew Keir as Professor Quatermass. This one’s got an impressive mystery and tells a neat story. Also starring James Donald and Julian Glover.
GHOST STORY (1974) – Matron – Haunted house tale not to be confused with Peter Straub’s novel or the 1981 film based on Straub’s novel. Shelley’s final performance in a theatrical release.
DOCTOR WHO (1984) – Sorasta – appeared in the four part episode “Planet of Fire” of this classic science fiction TV show. Peter Davison played the Doctor.
UNCLE SILAS (1989) – Cousin Monica – Barbara Shelley’s final screen credit to date in this horror TV mini-series starring Peter O’Toole as the mysterioius Uncle Silas.
Barbara Shelley was born on February 13, 1932. She passed away on January 4, 2021 at the age of 88.
I hope you enjoyed this partial look at the career of actress Barbara Shelley, one of the more influential actresses from 1950s-1960s British horror cinema.
Join me again next time when we look at the career of another actress in horror cinema in the next edition of LEADING LADIES.
Thanks for reading!