Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Black Sunday (1960)
Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan) is an amazing gothic masterpiece by director Mario Bava. It evokes a feeling of tension and dread throughout, contains an engaging story and features beautiful cinematography. It's hard to believe that this is Bava's first feature, as it is so well done. It brings to mind the classic black and white Universal films, filled with fog, beautiful women and men, menacing monsters and gorgeous sets. The ominous mood is set from the opening scene all the way through to the finale.
The film opens with Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) being accused of witchcraft. She is branded with the mark of Satan, then a hideous mask (called the mask of Satan, with sharp spikes on the inside) is pounded into her face before she and her servant (who has suffered the same fate) are both burned at the stake. Before she is executed, she vows revenge on the family of her brother, the prince, who has condemned her.
A few centuries later, we meet Katia (again, Barbara Steele), the descendant and splitting image of Asa. She lives in the Vajda castle with her brother and her father. Meanwhile, two traveling doctors stop at the now ruined church where "the witch" was laid to rest. The two decide to scope it out, and accidentally awake Asa, who is hellbent on revenge against the Vajda's. She in turn summons her servant and the two begin to terrorize the Vajda family. The two traveling doctors soon get involved with the family, one falling under Asa's spell and the other falling in love with Katia. Soon the killings begin, with the victims sporting two puncture marks on their necks. Asa has returned with vampiric powers and will stop at nothing for revenge against the family who destroyed her.
A great moody, atmospheric film that was nothing like what I was expecting. Truth be told, with Bava as the director I was expecting a giallo along the lines of Blood and Black Lace, filled with lots of blood, violence and exploitative shots of women. On the contrary, Black Sunday takes a more classic (and classy) approach, bathing everything in shadows and fog. It has its share of sadistic scenes, especially the torture scene at the beginning of the film, but everything is engulfed in a dream-like, fairy tale atmosphere that I found truly refreshing.
I'm glad I finally got around to seeing one of the classic films of horror cinema...check this out if you enjoy classic films with a gothic atmosphere and want to see where horror got its start!
Buy it on Amazon!