Transition vamp: remembering 70s horror star Patty Shepard

American actress passes away in Madrid at the age of 67

Patty Shepard in La curiosa (1973), directed by Vicente Escrivá.
Patty Shepard in La curiosa (1973), directed by Vicente Escrivá.EFE

The American actress Patty Shepard died in Madrid on January 3 at the age of 67, after suffering a heart attack. The news did not have the impact it deserved, probably because there are now few people who remember her presence in Spanish cinema in the 1960s and 1970s, when she starred in 50 films. It’s true they were mostly genre movies, especially horrors, some alongside schlock specialist Paul Naschy that are now eagerly valued by devoted fans — Tulio Demicheli’s Los monstruos del terror (1970), León Klimovsky’s La noche de Walpurgis (1971) and Javier Aguirre’s El asesino está entre los trece (1973).

Shepard came to resemble Barbara Steele, the British queen of European horror, but brought an unsettling sweetness to her satanic characters. She worked in an era of Spanish cinema when these types of low-budget productions rubbed shoulders with spaghetti westerns and erotic comedies. Among those, she starred in action comedy Watch Out, We’re Mad! (1974) alongside western duo Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, and also La curiosa (1973), where she played a 25-year-old who had yet to learn where babies come from.

But her last films were not of these genres. Among other directors, she worked for Manuel Summers (¿Por qué te engaña tu marido?, 1969), Iván Zulueta (Un, dos, tres, al escondite inglés, 1970), Eloy de la Iglesia (El techo de cristal, 1971), José Antonio de la Loma (Timanfaya, 1972), Pedro Olea (La casa sin fronteras, 1972), Jaime de Armiñán (Un casto varón español, 1973) and Antoni Ribas (La ciudad quemada, 1976).

Shepard possessed a captivating angelic expression, a transparent look, a delightful smile, a good sense of humor and bombproof professionalism. Her presence brought something new to Spanish cinema, but she was perhaps too discreet to achieve popular appeal — in those days the present-day morbid curiosity about other people’s lives didn’t exist.

Born in Greenville, South Carolina, she arrived in Spain accompanied by her father, an official in the United States Air Force, who had been posted to the Torrejón base in Madrid. At the age of 18, she was set to study humanities, but she soon came to the attention of the advertising world and her beautiful face began to feature in spots for Fundador brandy.

Married to actor Manuel de Blas, she enjoyed a fertile career until the end of the 1980s when she decided to retire. In all of the films in which she appeared she left a trace of unforgettable magic.

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