The true First Lady of Hammer horror, the red-haired Barbara Shelley was a great actress and a great beauty.
Her first film was an obscure early Hammer thriller, Mantrap (1953), but her first horror was in the title role of Cat Girl, a non-Hammer in 1957. Other non-Hammer films in the horror genre include The Blood of the Vampire (1958) and The Village of the Damned (1960).
She is best-known for a string of Hammer horrors in the 1960s. These included The Shadow of the Cat (1961), The Gorgon (1964), Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1965) and Quatermass and the Pit (1967). Her most celebrated role was as the repressed Englishwoman Helen Kent in Terence Fisher's Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965). In the film she is transformed from the prudish wife of Charles 'Bud' Tingwell to a sensual, feral vampire woman. The most famous moment was her scream as she discovers her husband's body in Dracula's crypt, and it was this performance more than any other that has earned her the epithet 'scream queen'. Ironically, however, it was co-star Suzan Farmer who provided the scream used in the final cut. Shelley's original scream can still be heard in some trailers, however!
Her film career subsided during the 1970s, and she was rarely seen during the 1980s, with the exception of the occasional TV appearance.