Black Sunday (1960) Mario Bava

Black Sunday (1960)
aka Mask of the Demon
aka La maschera del demonio
Genre: Gothic Horror
Country: Italy | Director: Mario Bava
Language: English or Italian (2 separate audio tracks)
Subtitles: English (Optional, embedded in Mkv file)
Aspect ratio: Widescreen 1.66:1 | Length: 86mn
Bdrip H264 Mkv - 1216x720 - 23.976fps - 4.65gb

Includes Audio Commentary with Tim Lucas
the editor of Video Watchdog
 (Third audio track)

A vengeful witch and her fiendish servant return from the grave and begin a bloody campaign to possess the body of the witch's beautiful look-alike descendant. Only the girl's brother and a handsome doctor stand in her way.

Mario Bava's first feature as a director (although he did uncredited directorial work before), this classic and extremely influential piece of Gothic horror really showed his cinematographic talent in creating a haunting and stylishly shot film. "Black Sunday" also catapulted Barbara Steele to horror stardom and would make her into the undisputed horror queen of the sixties. Bava based "Mask of Satan", as the film was originally titled, on the short story "Vij" by the Russian author Gogol, which he adapted into a homage to the early Universal horror pictures he loved so much. Barbara Steele is the beautiful 17th century witch princess Asa, who is a vampire, and her lover Juvato (Arturo Dominici), are put to death by her vengeful brother. He has iron masks with spikes on the inside placed on both their faces and then sledgehammered home (the brutal opening scene). Two hundred years later, blood is accidentally spilled on Asa's face and she rises from the dead along with Juvato to wreak revenge on the descendants of those who executed her - including her look-alike Katia, also played by Barbara Steele.

Beautifully shot in black and white by Bava himself, "Black Sunday" is a perfect showcase of his masterful control of light and shade, of colour and movement (yes, one can play with "shades of colour" in black and white) and playful camera angles, it's a feast for the eye. At heart Bava would always remain the cinematographer he always was and in all his films he took an active role in the design of each image by setting up the lighting, the optical effects, the filters etc. The film abounds in old-fashioned horror atmosphere and in that department, it even manages to top the atmosphere of the Universal horror classics it was based on with gnarled tree branches, fogbound sets, a decaying castle, a dark foreboding crypt and much more.

Of course, Bava's is well known for letting stylistic innovations take precedent over storytelling and most other things involved, like acting. Much of the script was reworked during shooting and even in post-production. Barbara Steele reportedly never even saw a script and got some pages every day of shooting. Variations of the story has been told many times in one way or another and there are more than a few echoes of Murnau's Nosferatu here. Much of the story is too derivative to begin with, and has become too formularised in subsequent years to retain much of its original power, just as the film's capacity to scare or excite audiences has probably worn out a little over the years. It doesn't really matter, because the film was chopped to pieces for over four decades and the habit of Italian filmmakers of post-synchronizing all the voices (even for Italian versions) made anything in that department a pretty dire affair anyway.

What Bava added however was some substantially more explicit violence and gore, laced with sexual connotations. The opening scene in which the mask is sledgehammered to Barbara Steele's face still packs quite a wallop, not to mention the effect it must have had on audiences back then. Still, horror fans can't really afford to miss this quintessential Bava piece, but watch it for the splendid cinematography and Bava's unique ways of visual wizardry.
 Black Sunday (1960)

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