Thursday, July 23, 2009

WOMAN OF THE WEEK: Catriona MacColl

B-Sol of the VoH here, greatest living horror blogger, with a belated edition of Woman of the Week. This time around, I'd like to take a look at a very special actress who has earned a place in the hearts and minds of all those who, like myself, have a certain affinity for that wild and woolly subgenre known as spaghetti horror.

When it comes to the Italians, they seem to know how to make some damn good westerns, and some damn good horror movies--particularly of the zombie variety. They also seem to be very skilled at picking memorable leading ladies for their films. In this case, the great Lucio Fulci picked himself a real winner with this British knockout who provided the focal point for his acclaimed "Seven Gates Trilogy", Ms. Catriona MacColl.

I'm pretty sure her real name is Katherine MacColl, but leave it to the Italians to transform it into something a little easier for their vowel-happy tongues to handle. A British actress, MacColl made her name nevertheless with appearances in film and TV all over the world, mainly in non-English speaking countries. In fact, she debuted in the Japanese production Lady Oscar in 1979.

Following the success of Zombi 2, Fulci had instantly turned himself into one of the horror genre's newest maverick directors. Looking to follow it up with an ambitious series of Lovecraft-influenced undead epics, he initially turned to the lovely Tisa Farrow, who had been his female lead in Zombi 2. However, it turned out that that the willowy brunette from the famous Hollywood family had gotten over the acting bug and turned to a career in nursing...

This turned out to be a fortuitious turn of events for Ms. MacColl, who got the call from Fulci and went from complete unknown to cult horror scream queen icon, becoming the director's go-to leading lady in the process.

The beautiful MacColl would appear in all three films in Fulci's trilogy: City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981). At just 25 years of age, she would instantly make her name in the horror business in a way most actresses can only dream of...

In the first film of the trilogy, MacColl plays Mary Woodhouse, a psychic who winds up being accidentally buried alive in what is easily the film's tensest sequence (and that's saying a lot!). In a classic Fulci touch, her desperate liberator nearly murders her as he plunges a pick-axe through the casket repeatedly in an attempt to get it open and free her. Her terror is palpable here, and indicative of what she would bring to the table for Fulci.

She stars in The Beyond as Liza Merril, inheritrix of a cursed hotel who is plagued by invading forces from hell itself. Most point to this film as Fulci's finest, and it's probably MacColl's finest performance, as well. Who can ever forget that iconic finale, which sees her trapped and blind in an endless netherworld void?

I'll always be partial to The House by the Cemetery, a strangely Shining-esque tale in which MacColl plays the part of Lucy Boyle, stressed-out housewife slowly succumbing to the horrors within the new home she's come to live in with her husband. It is her performance and reaction which contributes so strongly to the sense of creeping dread that makes this film a winner for me. In particular, her brutal demise at the hands of Dr. Freudstein in the movie's climax stays with the viewer long after the closing credits have finished.

There's something about the way MacColl was able to convey complete, soul-searing terror that made her such an asset to Fulci. Her large and expressive eyes told us everything--opened wide, a choked scream trapped in her throat... Future wannabe scream queens of the world, take notes. This is how it's done, ladies.

I had the honor of meeting Ms. MacColl last year at Chiller Theatre, and she could not have possibly been more gracious and congenial. I was impressed at how she managed to seem completely grateful and glad to have been a part of Fulci's body of work, while at the same time able to laugh self-effacingly at the unlikeliness of a beautiful British actress becoming an icon of Italian gore cinema. I'll never forget how she put my children at ease with humorous stories from the set of The Beyond, enthralling them with anecdotes of zombie extras being doused with strawberry jam to make them look more gruesome. Truly a classy lady, and one whom I hope to interview at some point.

After her work with Fulci, Catriona MacColl went on to do extensive film and TV work in both Italy and later France, where she later settled down. She has not been all too active in acting in recent years, and has instead been running a rural hotel in the south of France. Um... can you say, "pilgrimage"??

3 comment(s):

Scott (gotankgo) said...

A trip to France would be a blast, but if you go and visit her hotel be careful about trips to the basement - don't check on any plumbing issues down there.

B-Sol said...

LOL YES!! The original Joe the Plumber rules!

Soap Magic said...

Catriona is one of my favorite horror movie actresses. The Beyond holds a special place in my heart, and there's no doubt that Ms. MacColl helped put it there.

By the way, Catriona is her real name. In The Beyond's commentary, she said that the suffix -ona in Italian means big, therefore her name would be Big Katherine in Italian. This is why they credit her as "Katherine" instead of "Catriona".

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