In the 1963 film "The Ghost" ("Lo Spettro"), screen icon Barbara Steele plays Margaret Hichcock, the beautiful wife of a wheelchair-bound doctor who is trying to cure his paraplegia through carefully measured doses of a poison and its antidote. He's aided in his self-treatment by his friend, the young and handsome Dr. Livingstone who one day withholds the all-important antidote at Margaret's behest. Though at first the lovers believe themselves free, strange and frightening events turn them against each other. Has the ghost of Dr. Hichcock returned to wreak revenge?
English actor Steele starred in a number of films in the Italian Gothic Horror or "Italo Horror" genre, after appearing in Mario Bava's "Black Sunday" (1960), an archetypal representative of the genre some critics consider "the missing link" between standard horror and Italian art cinema. Movie buffs unfamiliar with Italian Gothic Horror could have a worse introduction to this rich vein of film history than to watch Steele's performances. Her ability to portray delicate vulnerability and diabolical abandon within the same characters earned her a cult following that thrives decades later.
Though not a sequel, "The Ghost" bears more than passing resemblance to an earlier Steele vehicle, "The Horrible Dr. Hichcock" (a.k.a. "The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock"), in which she plays Cynthia, the second wife of Bernard Hichcock. This Hichcock is another M.D. with a propensity for playing with his chemistry set, experimenting with states of paralysis, and enjoying an unusual relationship with death. Despite the difference in spelling, the repetition of the surname Hichcock seems an emphatic nod toward another director of that time, noted Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock.
A glance at the cast and crew lists for Italian Gothic Horror films reveals an interesting trend of the era. Though made in Italy, the film's marketers attempted to make it palatable to American audiences by Anglicizing not just the title of the movie, but also the names of many of the cast and crew. Thus, "Lo Spettro" director Riccardo Freda became "Robert Hampton." Such changes may have helped such imports compete with other horror film sources, such as the U.K.'s Hammer Production Company and the U.S.'s Universal Studios.
Kenneth FreemanPhysical therapy professor Kenneth Freeman of Salt Lake Community College discusses paralysis and the film “The Ghost.”
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