Barbara Shelley, British Horror Film Icon and "Queen of Hammer," Dies at 88

Barbara Shelley (left) in 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness'
Courtesy Everett Collection

Barbara Shelley and Christopher Lee in 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness'

She starred in 'The Gorgon,' 'Dracula: Prince of Darkness,' 'Rasputin: The Mad Monk' and 'Quatermass and the Pit,' appearing alongside Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Barbara Shelley, best known for her numerous appearances in Hammer Horror titles across the 1950s and 1960s, has died. She was 88.

The actress died from underlying conditions on Monday after contracting COVID-19, her agent revealed.

Shelley starred in some of the best known horror titles from Brit production house Hammer, including The Gorgon, Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, Rasputin: The Mad Monk and Quatermass And The Pit, appearing alongside other icons of the genre such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Her regular appearance as the glamorous gothic leading lady in these films helped earn her the nickname the 'Queen of Hammer'.

"Hammer was like a family, a very talented family... with a wonderful atmosphere on the set and a wonderful sense of humour," said Shelley, who born Barbara Kowin in London in 1932.

"When I first started doing Hammer, all the so-called classic actors looked down on the horror film. All the other things I did, nobody remembers those. But the horror films, I'm very grateful to them because they built me a fan base, and I'm very touched that people will come and ask for my autograph. If you went to see a [Hammer] film in the cinema, the gasps were interspersed with giggles because people were giggling at themselves for being frightened, they were frightening themselves; and this is what made Hammer very special."

Alongside her time at Hammer, Shelley starred in more than 100 films and TV series across a career that lasted until 2000, including Village of the Damned, The Saint, Man in the Dark, Hazel, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Avengers, Crown Court, Doctor Who, EastEnders and Uncle Silas.

In an interview with the Express newspaper in 2009, she said she was told at a convention by female fans that they loved her for her strong roles.

"Which I thought was a brilliant thing to have said about one. I never thought of it in that way. The fact that I’m still getting mail from my horror fan base really touches me." she said.

"No one told me I was beautiful. They said I was photogenic but no one said I was beautiful. If they had I would have had a lot more fun!"