The new year has barely even begun,and yet already it has brought us even more sad news. The British actress Barbara Shelley has died. She passed away on the 4th of January. She was 88 and had recently contracted Covid while she was in hospital.
Barbara appeared in numerous films and TV series over the years – The Gorgon, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, Village Of The Damned, The Saint, Danger Man,Doctor Who and EastEnders – but she is best remembered as the “Queen Of Hammer”. She was the celebrated horror studio’s number one female star and starred in many of their best films.
Barbara appeared in numerous Hammer Horror films during the 1950’s and 1960’s. My personal favourite of these is Quatermass And The Pit(1967), a creepy Sci-fi/Horror focusing on the frightening events following the discovery of an alien spacecraft entombed beneath a London underground station. I love her character Miss Judd, and especially love the way she portrayed the change she undergoes due to events later in the film. The scene where Miss Judd sees the aliens on their planet is unforgettable.
Barbara was born Barbara Kowin on the 13th of February, 1932 in Marylebone, London. She worked as a model before getting into acting. She first appeared on film in the 1953 Hammer film Mantrap, in which she had a minor role as a fashion commentator. She then moved to Rome and made several Italian films before returning home to England.
In 1956 she was given the lead role in Cat Girl, an unofficial British remake of Val Lewton’s Cat People. In 1958, Barbara was cast as Kate Keillor in The Camp On Blood Island, a brutal and disturbing flick about events in a Japanese POW camp during WW2. She would also star in its sequel The Secret Of Blood Island. Also in 1958, she played Madeleine, a woman held captive by a mad doctor performing experiments in Blood Of The Vampire.
In 1960 she starred alongside George Sanders in the unsettling Village Of The Damned, which was based upon the British novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham. Barbara plays the wife of George Sanders heroic schoolteacher.
In 1964, Barbara would star alongside Peter Cushing in the hidden gem The Gorgon, in which focuses upon the legend of Medusa. She was also Christopher Lee’s leading lady twice in 1966. Firstly in Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, in which she plays a woman who is turned into a vampire and becomes companion to the Count; secondly in Rasputin: The Mad Monk, in which she plays the last Tsarina’s lady in waiting, Sonia, who falls under the spell of the mysterious Rasputin. Barbara adored both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and always spoke fondly of both men and of their work together.
Barbara Shelley became an icon of British cinema thanks to her wonderful work in all those Hammer flicks. While I am heartbroken by her death, I take comfort in all those wonderful films and performances she has left behind for us to enjoy. R.I.P, Barbara.