Black Sunday (The Mask of Satan)

Black Sunday (1960) movie poster

(1960) dir. Mario Bava
viewed: 11/05/07

The second feature of what would have been my Halloween night fright fest was another fantastic choice (sound of self being patted on the back).  In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t actually watch them on All Hallow’s Eve or however you put it.

Mario Bava’s first feature film, Black Sunday in initial U. S. release but also released as The Mask of Satan in both English and Italian is a iconic film from the Italian film industry, a well-crafted, beautifully-shot near-masterpiece of high Gothic horror and the father or grandfather of so many films hence.

The story is adapted from a Nikolai Gogol short story, though I do not know how much it resembles the original.  The opening sequence is at the crucifixion of two witches/vampires in the 16th century in rather bloody effects.  The female vows vengeance on the family of her persecutor and then has a “mask of Satan” (with nails pointing inward) hammered onto her face.  The story picks up 200 years later with the reviving of the two witches/vampires and their played out revenge on the family that killed them.

The most striking thing by far is the cinematography and framings of shots.  The black-and-white film is gorgeous, in its elements of shadow and the crumbling ruins of abbeys and graveyards.  Bava’s camerawork and the film’s edgy gore and violence (for 1960) is tremendously effective.  The film would have been an excellent compliment to The Old Dark House (1932), which I meant to play it directly after.  It’s the classical type of horror film, but this one with more genuinely supernatural elements.

The commentary on the DVD was quite good from what I listened to (about 20 minutes or so), by film historian Tim Lucas, elucidating much of Bava’s work and influence as well as some critical points that could be interesting on further investigation.  I’ve been pretty put off by commentaries and only sample them when I am inspired by curiosity.  All in all, this is a very good horror film, well worth its reputation and only corny on occasion.

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