A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?” For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep. Black Sunday 1960, Italy.Directed by Mario Bava. Loosely based on “The Vij” by Nikolai Gogol. Starring Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Arturo Dominici. In seventeenth century Moldavia, a young witch and her lover are sentenced to death for their sorcerous crimes. They are dragged into the countryside by her inquisitor brother and the mark of Satan is seared into their flesh. Asa screams in pain and fury, swearing her revenge and placing a curse upon her brother’s lineage. An iron mask lined with sharpened spikes is locked over her head and slammed into place with a large hammer. Blood oozes from the eyes of the mask. Two hundred years later, a doctor and his assistant are en route to Moscow when one of the wheels of their carriage breaks. The driver fearfully sets to repairing the damage while the other men decide that the creepy darkened countryside is the kind that should be explored by unarmed strangers. Not surprisingly, they stumble upon the crypt where Asa was laid to rest. The doc is attacked by a huge, fake-looking bat and unwittingly busts open the crypt. Considering that he’s already done that much damage, he decides to pry the death mask from the hollow-eyed, insect-covered face below. Then, just for good measure, he accidentally splashes a few drops of his blood on the corpse of the previously entombed witch. I mean, what could possibly happen, right? The doctor’s assistant, Andre Gorobec, has a gothic meet-cute with a local girl named Katia. She’s the kind of girl who walks the countryside at night with a couple huge Dobermans, dressed in black, a dead-ringer for the cursed sorceress. She lives in an old castle with her father, the Prince, and asks, “What is my life, but sadness and grief?” While Daddy broods in front of the fireplace, she plays the piano and looks gorgeously forlorn. She also tends to swoon, scream and faint so Gorobec can carry her while sweeping melancholic music plays in the background. Obviously, he is instantly smitten. Mario Bava began his career as a cameraman, which is obvious in every hauntingly composed shot he created as a director. This film, which was his directorial debut, was once considered one of the most beautifully photographed films in horror cinema. He was influenced by the German expressionists, like Fritz Lang and FW Murnau, and went on to influence directors as varied as Dario Argento and Tim Burton. Like the work of those filmmakers on either side of him, narrative and characterization often took a back seat to the atmosphere he created. BLACK SUNDAY unreels like a hallucinatory nightmare, a glimpse into a world of swirling mists and spooky trees, where coaches pass through the forest like hearses among vengeful ghosts. But the thing about hallucinations is that they don’t always make sense. Bava was a strange transitional director, and never more so than in this movie. Here there are masks of Satan and powerful witches, but there’s also howling as of monstrous beasts outside the castle (which feels quite haunted), while Asa and her lover are apparently vampires now. It’s a tangled story, and sometimes a little stiff in the way that lots of old movies are. If you turn off the reasoning side of your brain and just go with it, however, you can really get your old-school Goth on. The beginnings of the new age of gore are here as well: a spiked mask hammered into a face, a head melting on a fire, insects squirming in the empty eye sockets of a corpse. These scenes and more delayed the movie’s release in the United States and the UK for several years. Bava would go on to offend in a more modern way with NEW YORK RIPPER and kick start the entire slasher genre with A BAY OF BLOOD. When I see this movie, I waver between thinking it’s ridiculous and feeling like it’s a masterpiece. For example, a peasant woman sends her daughter to milk the cow in the middle of the night, apparently for no other reason than the animal is deep in the creepy woods. The grave of Asa’s lover is right there beside the barn. Cut to Asa, with her spike-punctured, sepulchral face, spookily invoking him to rise. While the girl’s milking the cow, a sudden storm erupts, wind and fog everywhere, and a hand reaches up from the earth. A figure wearing the mask of the Devil sluggishly claws its way out of the grave. The girl is milking, milking, milking. The resurrected sorcerer begins to stagger, finally pulling the death mask from his face. The girl is still milking the damn cow. . . and then the zombie-vampire-witch guy just kind of wanders off. The scene works fantastically because it conjures up all this atmosphere, but the presence of the girl doesn’t make any sense. Maybe it could be best explained in the words of the resurrected witch Asa: “Now you will enjoy a beautiful life of evil and hate.” See larger image Black Sunday: Remastered Edition [Blu-ray] In Mario Bava’s gothic horror masterpiece steeped in rich atmosphere, condemned witch Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) returns from the dead two centuries after her execution and wreaks vengeance on her killers’ family. Possessing the body of a descendant who happens to look just like her, Asa pulls out all the stops to exact her revenge. This is Bava’s credited directorial debut, and it catapulted Steele and him to stardom New From: $15.02 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.