This is it! Time to recruit our 50th guest! Who is worthy enough to slip on our Official Jubilee Cloak? How about a Danish actress? How about Sybil Danning? Yes, just think about it: if ever our 50 Cult Sirens, dead and living alike, would reunite for a dinner celebration, who would best preside at the head of the table? I can only picture Sybil standing there, wearing her costume from Battle Beyond the Stars and lording it all over the rest. The time is right to discuss her career, as she seems to be making a comeback with new projects, particularly Grindhouse.
For the youngsters among you, let’s note that Sybil became a very big deal during the eighties, enjoying tremendous popularity and cult fame in Europe and America for many roles in B-movies. The outrageous costumes that she wore for many of these low-budget projects are still legendary and were probably already considered campy the day these movies opened. Like some of our guests here, it also wasn’t a big problem for Sybil to disrobe, which resulted in even more fan adulation.
I love it when during research on a potential Siren, I find conflicting dates of birth. So she was born on May 24, maybe in 1949, maybe in 1952, in Wels, Upper Austria, Austria (some sources claim Ried im Innkreis, Austria). So came into our world Sybille Johanna Danninger, the love child of a German-Dutch-American father and an Austrian mother. The dad left before her birth and mom remade her life with a U.S. Army major, who transferred the family to the States. A sister was born, as Sybil began living from Army base to Army base. Another move to Germany resulted in a kid brother and a perfect bilingual accent in German an English for our heroine.
All this moving around took its toll on Sybil’s mom, who at some point refused to go live in Japan. She demanded a divorce and… moved back to Austria! Fourteen years old Sybil left school to help the family gain some needed money and she became her uncle’s dental assistant. After two years of this glamorous life, she left for Vienna to pursue her own goals. Oddly, she remained in the oral surgery business, assisting some of Europe’s finest doctors. She finally studied cosmetology in Salzburg, with the ultimate goal of opening her own beauty salon. Since there were too many of them around, she began work as a cosmetician for fashion shows and, yes, she became a model herself.
Sybil made her film debut in 1968, portraying the legendary Lorelei only clothed by her long blond tresses. So she immediately became a sensation for the press after that seductive contribution. The next year, she had a role in one of Robert De Niro’s first movie, Sam’s Song. After that, there were some light sexy comedies and another personal triumph in the brilliantly titled The Long Swift Sword of Siegfried, an fantasy adventure (or rather soft porn adventure) which saw her portray another heroic figure, Kriemhild. More or less clothed. Well, not very often clothed would be more precise.
Sybil trained for three years with a drama coach in Munich, but could only find sexy and not very demanding roles. Her involvement in international co-productions was to be more rewarding. In 1972, she was included in the cast of Bluebeard, alongside Raquel Welch and Richard Burton, playing a high-class prostitute. The same year, she was also in Eye of the Labyrinth, a giallo thriller worth checking out, alongside The Red Queen Kills 7 Times, in the same genre.
Also noteworthy were The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, once again with Raquel Welch, both movies receiving critical and popular success. Things were looking good for Sybil as she took a part in a Claude Chabrol movie, Folies bourgeoises, in 1976 and was also in the cast of a Best Foreign Film Academy Awards nominee, Operation Thunderbolt. Crossed Swords was her fourth appearance besides Raquel. At ease with languages, Sybil was in no way lost in all these European co-productions.
But Hollywood was calling! And why not? Famed movie critic Roger Ebert admitted to being a fan, so… Sybil’s agressive sex-appeal was welcome in many action adventures with sexy situations. Battle Beyond the Stars saw her portray an extra-terrestrial amazon, a character who got her breasts fogged out during the movie prime-time television premiere! Named Saint-Exmin, this remains one of her best performance and earned The Golden Scroll Award of Merit from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. This sci-fi movie was sort of a remake of The Magnificent Seven, itself a remake of the best picture of all time, Seven Samurai. Sybil took part in another variation of this same premise for The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, alongside Lou Ferrigno (want another version? Try A Bug’s Life…).
Jungle Warriors, Panther Squad or S.A.S. San Salvador saw Sybil kicking butt, more often than not while wearing stiletto high heels and a bikini. Her incredible nude scenes in They're Playing with Fire got her a lot of attention, as was her presence in the heavenly sleazy Chained Heat as a chaingang mama, alongside potential future Sirens Linda Blair, Stella Stevens and Tamara Dobson. A bit like Sigourney Weaver, Sybil was now considered a female Stallone or Schwarzenegger!
In 1983, Sybil graced the cover of Playboy, which included a pictorial naming her Queen of the Action Flicks. She co-starred with Christopher Lee for the curious Howling II, playing Stirba, Werewolf Bitch. She began to guest-star in many American television series, notably A Man Called Sloane, Vega$, Simon & Simon, Masquerade, The Fall Guy and V. She even got her own comic book! She also had the dubious honor of being awarded a couple of Razzie Awards for Worst Actress, though… some people can dare anything! Around that time, Sybil lost out on the lead female role in the new 007 adventure, Octopussy, to less agressive Maud Adams.
In 1986, Sybil was seen with troubled rocker Wendy O. Williams in Reform School Girls, a campy Women in Prison flick. After the sketch parody Amazon Women on the Moon, she founded her own production company, Adventuress Productions, Inc., and put out L.A. Bounty, in which she starred and helped with the script. Like Mamie van Doren and Elvira, she also became the officiel host for a collection of 26 action adventure movies, Sybil Danning’s Adventure Video, for USA Home Video. More eccentric costumes and sometimes pouffy hairdos were consequently displayed…
In 1990, her career was cut short by an accident in a gym while she was rehearsing a movie stunt, consisting of flipping a girl on her back! With two severely herniated discs, she had the pleasurable experience of enduring epidural treatments, in which hypodermic needles are inserted between the vertebrae, followed by traction. She couldn’t walk and finally consented to a new microdissectomy technique. More happily, Sybil married German businessman, Horst Lasse, who actually consented to be called Horst Danning! He was the owner of a hockey team in Germany and his new spouse became a rabid fan.
After a too-long pause, Sybil was back among her fans in 2003, making herself available on the convention circuit. Chiller Theatre produced in 2004 the documentary UnConventional, including footage with Sybil. It’s with great delight to note that the year 2007 marks her comeback to the big screen, most notably in Grindhouse, where she pays homage to the great Dyanne Thorne in her Ilsa character, in a faux trailer entitled Werewolf Women of the SS! How could we ask for more? But more we want and more we’ll get in Jump!, an Austrian/UK production set in 1928. Lastly, Rob Zombie has announced that Sybil could be present for his remake of Halloween! So maybe it’s not too late for new fans to worship one of the greatest female screen presence of all time.