... aka: Ein Engel für den Teufel (An Angel for the Devil)
... aka: Un ange pour Satan
Because of a drought, a lake decreases in water volume and an ancient, heavily-damaged statue of a nude woman is discovered at the bottom. Count Montebruno (Claudio Gora) has the statue fished out and then hires handsome young artist / sculptor Roberto Merigi (Anthony Steffen) to restore it. Roberto arrives in the small Italian village by boat and soon comes to realize that this isn't going to be just any ordinary project. According to local legend, with the statue comes a curse and restoring this particular piece will bring tragedy and death to the entire village. Roberto has no interest in local superstition. He just wants to get to work. But before he can get started, the two men who brought him there; both fisherman and excellent swimmers, drown when their boat mysteriously capsizes. Roberto then realizes his life may be in danger from the enraged locals themselves, who aren't too happy about the statue resurfacing. When Roberto goes to a pub to work on some sketches, he gets roughed up by local brute Carlo (Mario Brega) and his thugs and barely manages to make it out of there in one piece.
The owner of the Montebruno estate isn't the Count, but his orphaned niece Harriet (Barbara Steele). After her parents died when she was just five years old, she was sent away to London to get an education and hasn't been back to the manor since. Now that it's been fifteen yeas and she's hit her 20th birthday, she can finally collect on her inheritance. Upon returning, she meets the staff, which includes butler Julian (Antonio Corevi), cute young maid Rita (Ursula Davis), retired army soldier and now security guard Sergeant Alfonso (Antonio Acqua), governess Illa (“Maureen Melrose” / Marina Berti) and gardener Victor (Aldo Berti), a “slow” neurotic who's been in and out of a nuthouse as of late. Illa is secretly the Count's lover while Rita is secretly dating school teacher Dario Morelli (Vassili “Karamesinis” / Karis); one of the few people in the area who was kind to the new arrival in town because he knows what it's like to be treated as an outsider by the locals. Romance is also in the air for Roberto and Harriet as soon as they lay eyes on each other and fall in love.
As it turns out, the statue is of Harriet's beautiful ancestor Maddalena (also played by Steele), who lived 200 years ago, was desired by all of the men in the area and hired a sculptor (also Steffen) to preserve her beauty in marble. The statue was then placed in the village public square for all to admire. Maddalena's sister Belinda, who wasn't blessed with her sibling's beauty and couldn't find a single man to love her, walked in on her sister and the sculptor (whom she had fallen in love with) in bed. For revenge, Belinda decides to destroy the statue. Unfortunately, when she attempts to push it into the lake, she falls in with it and drowns. Now her restless spirit wants revenge and a second chance at life. Since the face on the statue is damaged and Harriet looks a lot like Maddalena, Roberto convinces her to model for the restoration. That leaves the door open for the vengeful ancestor to possess Harriet and cause all kinds of problems for everyone.
Since Belinda was something of a sadist, the once-sweet Harriet now gets her kicks sinking her claws into all of the menfolk in the area and basically trying to destroy the lives of everyone she comes into contact with. She chastises Roberto for not holding her tightly enough and manages to completely alienate him in just one day. She strips off her clothes in front of the retarded / virginal gardener (“Have you ever seen a naked woman?”) and then whips him with her riding crop for looking at her. After that encounter, the poor guy loses it and goes on a rape / murder spree until he runs into a mob of angry villagers armed with pitchforks. Belinda then works her magic on both Dario the teacher, who she seduces in a greenhouse, and Rita, who she seduces with lesbian passes, expensive gifts and the promise that “We'll have so much fun... making men suffer.” That all ends in a suicide. Belinda even manages to get Carlo the brute so hot and bothered that he not only forsakes his wife and five kids for her but eventually burns them all alive! A twist ending reveals a conspiracy involving hypnosis but that's not really the main selling point of this one.
Though fairly light on the horror, this is a well-made dark fantasy / melodrama that should please fans of these kind of movies. There's an elegant, romantic musical score from Francesco De Masi, moody black-and-white photography from Giuseppe Aquari and good art direction, costumes and the like. The plot is nothing to write home about but this works well as a showcase for the gorgeous Steele. The British-born actress delivers big time here with an amazingly sensual and sinister performance that pretty much makes the entire film. When she's on screen, all eyes are on her and she completely dominates the proceedings. This is the exact kind of role Ms. Steele excelled at. While she plays the "good" heroine adequately, she really shines being seductive, manipulative and wickedly evil. If you want to see why she's the only actress from this era held in as high regard as male genre superstars like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, your proof is right here. As far as the rest of the cast is concerned, Steffen makes for a very good, very likable male lead and everyone else does fine. Halina Zalewska (Snow Devils) and Giovanna Lenzi (Deadly Inheritance) have small roles as peasant girls.
This was the ninth and final Italian horror vehicle for Steele. The others were BLACK SUNDAY (1960), The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962), The Ghost (1963), Castle of Blood (1964), THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964), Nightmare Castle (1965), TERROR-CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965) and THE SHE BEAST (1966). If you count the Roger Corman-directed American production The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), that's an impressive ten horror films in just six years for the actress. Director / co-writer / production manager Mastrocinque (who passed away in 1969, just three years after this was released) also made Crypt of the Vampires (1964), an early adaptation of Le Fanu's Carmilla starring Lee and also featuring Ursula Davis.
Angel was the rarest Steele film for decades and remains one of the actress' least-watched films. Italian-language bootlegs in really bad shape were all that was available for the longest time. In 2009, Midnight Choir / Ryko released a restored French-dubbed cut of the film with English subtitles (for the first time ever). Their release also comes with Long Hair of Death.