Obscure Horror Cinema: The Ghost

by William Burns

Most horror fans know the unholy trinity of Italian horror: Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci. These three masters created bodies of work that revolutionized the horror film. And yet none of these artists were the first modern Italian horror film director. That honor goes to Ricardo Freda. Freda helmed the first two contemporary Italian horror films: I Vampiri in 1956 and Caltiki: il Mostro Immortale in 1959. Well, he at least initiated these projects. Of a very temperamental nature, Freda walked off both movies before they were finished, leaving his trusted cameraman Mario Bava to complete the films. Freda claimed to have no particular love for the horror genre, preferring the peplum/gladiator type of films and yet he would create two of the greatest Italian horror films in the 1960’s: The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock (1962) and its loosely connected sequel The Ghost (1963). These two Gothically gruesome films brought twisted pathologies to the Italian horror formula. Combining Alfred Hitchcock’s obsessed, psychologically damaged characters, Henri Clouzot’s murderous, deceptive lovers, and Roger Corman’s depictions of Poe’s romance of death, Freda’s films offer a host of perverse sado-masochistic and necrophiliac relationships. Picking up with the bizarre marriage between Dr. Hitchcock and his wife, The Ghost further deconstructs the boundaries of love as Mrs. Hitchcock plots to kill her older, depraved husband so she can shack up with a handsome, younger doctor. After committing the “perfect” murder, the widow Hitchcock is haunted by the specter of her dead husband. Is it her guilty conscience or an actual avenging revenant determined to drive her mad? Opening with a creepy seance, The Ghost is saturated with a morbid atmosphere and macabre fetishes that would hallmark Freda’s later giallos Double Face and The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire and his last great Gothic horror Tragic Ceremony. What elevates The Ghost to classic status is the ethereal presence of the Queen of Italian horror, Barbara Steele. Steele’s performance as Mrs. Hitchcock is a combination of reserved elegance and deranged fragility as her expressive eyes convey more than words can ever say. Her haunting beauty would become synonymous with the rococo ambiance of Italian horror and nowhere is this more prevalent than in The Ghost (the appearance of another Italian horror great Harriet White Medin doesn’t hurt either). Unfortunately, Freda’s films have not been given the deluxe treatment of his countrymen but there’s always hope that 2015 will finally be his year to be properly memorialized.


Leave a Comment