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R.I.P. British horror actress and producer Hilary Heath

Illustration for article titled R.I.P. British horror actress and producer Hilary Heath
Photo: American International Pictures (Getty Images)

Hilary Heath has died. A veteran film producer who also—under her maiden name, Hilary Dwyer—acted in several of American International Pictures’ influential horror films in the 1960s, Heath was known both for her expressive portrayals of women in various forms of medieval and Victorian peril, as well as her frequent pairings with co-star Vincent Price. Heath died of complications from COVID-19 last week. She was 74.

Originally popping up in British TV throughout the 1960s—including episodes of The Prisoner and The Avengers—Heath got her break into film in 1968, when she was cast in Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General. (Released in the U.S. as The Conqueror Worm, in a blatant attempt to capitalize on Price and Roger Corman’s string of AIP Edgar Allan Poe adaptations during the first half of the decade.) Starring as a young woman who finds herself brutally mistreated by Price’s corrupt witch hunter, Heath was tasked with putting a human face on an abundance of suffering that ranged from sexual assault to outright physical torture. Despite her discomfort, though (and her introduction into a team of filmmakers who’d been working toegher for years), Heath was effusive in her praise for both co-star Price and director Reeves—whose sudden death, just a few months after the film’s controversial release, would help secure Witchfinder’s place among the cult horror canon.


Heath and Price would reunite two more times for AIP, first in 1969's The Oblong Box, and then 1970's Cry Of The Banshee. (In an interview in 2010, Heath expressed her adoration for Price, noting that “I played his mistress, his daughter, and his wife. And he said to me, ‘If you ever get to play my mother, I’ll marry you.’”) 1970 also marked her final film role, in Robert Fuerst’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Although she’d continue to work in television and on the stage for a few more years, Heath soon transitioned into her new career: Film production. Teamed up with new husband Duncan Heath, she formed her own production company, and would spend the rest of her career behind the camera. Films bearing her signature include Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman’s An Awfully Big Adventure, as well as Gary Oldman’s Nil By Mouth. (She also produced the TV movie adaptation of The Worst Witch, for anyone who’s ever enjoyed Tim Curry’s delightfully ridiculous musical number from said movie.) She continued to produce into the mid-2010s, with her last work being on BBC One’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.