Black Sunday is a beautifully filmed black and white Italian horror film directed by the legendary Mario Bava.
In the 17th century, Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and her brother Prince Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are going to burn at the stake for the crimes of practicing witchcraft and vampirism. Doomed Asa places a curse, before her death, in which she promises to come back from the grave. She promises to kill the descendants of her own family; for they are the ones who condemned her to her terrible fate.
Dr. Andre Gorobec (Jon Richardson) and Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checci) are on their way to Moscow when their carriage breaks down. The ruined castle of the Vajda family is nearby, so they decide to take a break and explore its grounds. They stumble upon an old crypt; ancient spider webs, skulls and stone sarcophagi fill its space. Quite unwittingly, they unleash the ancient curse that was supposed to keep Asa in the grave. This event threatens the very existence of Asas descendants, which include Katia Vajda (Barbara Steele), Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani), and Prince Constatine Vajda (Enrico Oliviera). Asa wants to use the life force of Katia, her exact double, in order to gain back the strength of her physical body. With the help of a resurrected Igor, she is determined to get her revenge and become alive once more.
This was the first film that Italian horror master Mario Bava directed completely on his own . You can tell that he was directly influenced by the Hammer studio films that came out during that period, but he took gothic horror a step further. For a movie that was shot in 1960 it was quite a graphic piece of horror cinema. Maggots writhing in eye sockets, tight shots of ample cleavage, and a rib cage with bits of flesh still hanging from its ribs are just some of the exploitation type scenes that you get to watch throughout the film. He used very unusual camera angles, and slow motion sequences were executed quite effectively. There was a great scene which was a prime example of this unusual style of film making; it is when Kruvajan was being driven in a carriage by the evil Igor. Bava could have just filmed the carriage going along at a fast speed, but instead he shot in slow motion in order to raise our fear to another level. Bava went on to direct such classic films as The Body And The Whip, Blood And Black Lace, and Baron Blood.
This film was based upon a tale by Ukranian author Nikolai Gogol, and it was called The VijÆ. Bava picked the story out himself, but later added elements suggested by different screen writers. What could have turned into a disaster, instead turned into a great screenplay and gorgeous film. The story of evil, vampiric witches coming back from the dead isnÆt that unusual; however, he made it his own by adding gore and sexual tension.
English actress Barbara Steele is the only well known star of this film. She has very large eyes that seem to peer right through you, and she used them very effectively when she was playing Asa. Every time she spits out something evil you could easily believe that what Asa was saying was true, because Steele plays her as a very sexual creature with sadistic undertones. You find yourself finding the character very sexy, yet you wouldnÆt want to get on her bad side. Steele was quite a famous actress back in the 1960's, and was in a lot of Italian horror films. Castle Of Blood, Cemetery Of The Living Dead, and Lovers Beyond The Tomb are just some of the films she starred in. She is still alive, but has not been in many movies for over twenty years.
I must say that I really loved the sets in this film, and my favorite has to be the family crypt. That place looked genuinely very frightening, because it actually felt like it could be the real deal. A mark of a good horror movie is the believability of the places in which the characters are placed. If there is a good chance that I would like to visit the place depicted in the film then the movie makers have done their job well. If I had a basement I wouldnÆt mind having one of those stone sarcophagi placed in it.
There are two different versions of this movie. AIP bought the rights to the English version of this film, which was originally called The Mask Of Satan. The title was considered too offensive, so AIP changed it to Black Sunday. They also edited out the most erotic and violent elements of the film, but there is an uncut European version available on DVD.
Bava was a legend, and his films should be watched by those interested in the history of horror cinema. In fact it should be watched by every horror fan; that includes you! Turn down the lights, get those candles out, and see this horror classic.