31 Days of Halloween-Day 11: Black Sunday (1960)

There are a lot of different sub-genres within the horror film community. Besides Universal and Hammer, you have the slasher movies and zombie flicks; fans of Dario Argento and those who think Paul Naschy is a modern-day legend. And then we have the Italian horror film, in which we can find no better example than Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan). Filmed in 1960, this gothic horror classic was directed by the legendary Mario Bava, his first full feature. And legend is not a term used lightly. After all, there is the 1,128 page mammoth book about him, Mario Bava: All The Colors of the Dark, written By Tim Lucas. There has never been a more definitive book written about a director. Now, I must admit, I’m not as well versed in Bava as I should be. I’ve seen Black Sabbath and Planet of the Vampires but not with a critical eye. I’ve even seen Black Sunday before but with this go-around, I was engaged by the visual imagery. Bava is a master of colors and you wish that Black Sunday would have been filmed in color. However, for me at least, I am more than entertained by a black and white horror film if it’s well-written and visually appealing. Black Sunday definitely succeeds at that and more. Barbara Steele heads up our cast as the beautiful witch Asa Vajda, who is burned at the stake but not before she vows revenge and puts a curse on her brother’s descendants. To make matters worse, a metal mask is brutally nailed onto her face. Her body is discovered 200 years later and revived by the blood of Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi). Ultimately, Asa plans to drain her descendant, Katia (also played by Steele), of her blood in hopes of achieving immortality. Along the way, you have graveyards, castles with hidden passageways, foggy nights, villagers with torches and a brutal manservant Javuto, who was Asa’s love and rises from the grave to do her bidding. All of this is cliché but it works like never before.

The movie was only a moderate success in Italy but proved very successful in France and the United States. It was praised by horror-hungry American audiences and was declared an instant classic. Barbara Steele was in high demand and went on to become a horror queen, but none of her movies had the lasting impact as Black Sunday. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better, more atmospheric, gothic horror film. The new Blu-Ray transfer is stunning. The only downside to this release is that I wish there were other viewing options other than the dubbed version, but we’ll take what we can get. And we what get is amazing. Highly recommended!

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