Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960)

Mario Bava's Black Sabbath (1963)

Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mario Bava's Kill Baby, Kill (1966)

Sergio Martino's The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971)

Luciano Ercoli's Death Walks on High Heels (1971)

Duccio Tessari's The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)

Emilio Miraglia's The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

Peter Newbrook's The Asphyx (1972)

Luciano Ercoli's Death Walks at Midnight (1972)

Richard Friedman's Doom Asylum (1972)

Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972)

Emilio Miraglia's The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Sergio Martino's Torso (1973)

Alfred Sole's Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat (1981)

Juan Piquer Simón's Pieces (1982)

Harry Bromley Davenport's Xtro (1982)

Wayne Berwick's Microwave Massacre (1983)

Joseph S. Cardone's The Slayer (1982)

Stephen King's Firestarter (1984)

Buddy Cooper's The Mutilator (1984)

Larry Stewart's The Initiation (1984)

Steve Miner's House (1985)

Tibor Takacs The Gate (1987)

Ethan Wiley's House II: The Second Story (1987)

Frank Henenlotter's Brain Damage (1988)

Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Juan Piquer Simon's Slugs (1988)

James Isaac's The Horror Show (1989)

Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Lewis Abernathy's House IV The Repossession (1992)

Anders Jacobsson's Evil Ed (1995)

Wes Craven's Mind Ripper (1995)

Robert Kurtzman’s Wishmaster (1997)

Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960) Retrospective Analysis

Black Sunday (1960) on IMDb

One day in each century, it is said that Satan walks amongst us, and to the God fearing, this day is known as Black Sunday. In the seventeenth century, the Devil appeared amidst the people of Moldovia, and those who served him were monstrous beings, avidly thirsting for human blood. History has given these slaves of Satan the name of Vampire, and whenever they were caught, they were put to a horrible death. Princess Asa of the aristocratic Vajda family was one of these, she was sentenced to a witches' death by her own brother, Prince Vajda, and before the moment of death, the brand of Satan was burned into her flesh. As if by command of the Devil himself, the sudden fury of the elements extinguished the purifying flames. The terror stricken people ran in panic from that cursed place. And all that long and dreadful night, church bells tolled to keep off the spirits of evil. In the chill dawn, the body of Princess Asa's serf Javuto is covered with earth and buried in unconsecrated ground, amidst murderers and suicides. The body of Asa the witch is placed in the tomb of her ancestors, forever more to be called by that foulest of names, vampire...

This quote marks the beginning of Mario Bava’s chilling classic horror, Black Sunday, aka, The Mask of Satan (La maschera del demonio), from 1960, featuring an iconic and inspirational performance from the timeless Barbara Steele, who effortlessly performs the dual roles of the heartless Princess Asa Vajda, and also that of her somewhat gullible ancestor, Princess Katia Vajda.

Alongside Barbara Steele is John Richardson, who plays Dr. Andre Gorobec, a lovestruck medical student who falls for the beautiful Princess after meeting her outside the Vajda family chapel, along with Dr. Thomas Kruvajan, portrayed by Andrea Checchi, a knowledgeable, albeit slightly arrogant character, who enjoys the finer elements of life, including smoked salmon and excellent vodka, however, Black Sunday must surely be remembered for a number of aspects, and this includes the fact that this was Mario Bava’s directorial debut, his stunning photography of the film, Steele’s chilling performance as both Asa and Katia, Giorgio Giovannini’s beautiful set designs, and Roberto Nicolosi’s breathtaking score; we’ll focus on these aspects in greater detail, as well as looking at the history of the movie.

We’ll also look at the movie that Mario Bava worked on, alongside Riccardo Freda, “I Vampiri”, which Freda abandoned during production, leaving the inspirational cinematographer turned director to finish, on schedule, which would ultimately lead to bigger and better things, including Black Sunday and Black Sabbath. Before we begin the retrospective look back, it’s important to note that we’ll be looking at the European edition of Black Sunday, known as “The Mask of Satan”, as we feel this version of the movie is perhaps the most complete, and how Mario Bava intended the movie to be seen, it has many of the scenes, particularly those featuring elements of terror and gore, still intact and seen in their entirety, whereas the American International Pictures version, Black Sunday, was toned down for a younger audience, and a great deal of the more romantic elements of the movie were removed completely.  

Black Sunday a.k.a The Mask of Satan: Matt Bailey

Mario Bava’s The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday) takes place around the year 1630, in Moldavia, a principality of Eastern Europe, and tells the story of Princess Asa of Vajda (Barbara Steele) who has been condemned to death at the hands of the High Court of the Inquisition, led by her very own brother, Prince Griabby of Vajda, who suggests that his sister is involved with the “Serf of the Devil”, Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici), as he believes that the pair have been practising witchcraft. Griabby renounces his sister and orders her face to be covered with an ancient bronze mask, known as the “Mask of Satan” and nailed down; realising that death awaits, Asa repudiates her brother, and in the name of Satan, places a curse that will destroy her accuser, and his accursed house, spilling the blood of all that remain within. Undeterred, Prince Griabby condemns his sister to death, and the mask is firmly nailed into place, in one swift blow, killing her instantly. With Asa dead, she is interred into the Vajda family crypt whilst the lifeless corpse of Javutich is thrown into an unconsecrated grave.

Two centuries later, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his young assistant, Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) are travelling through Moldavia, heading to Moscow for a medical conference. Seeking a shortcut through a mysterious forest, a wheel on the carriage slips from its socket, and they are forced to abandon their journey, at least until the coachman, Nikita (Mario Passante) is able to repair the damage. With time on their hands, Kruvajan and Gorobec decide to investigate the local area and discover an ancient ruined chapel. Inside, they find Princess Asa’s tomb in the crypt, marked by a stone cross. Kruvajan tells of the legend of the witch, and notes the “Death Mask”, explaining “One was always placed over the face of a condemned witch, so she could wear for all eternity her true face, the face of Satan”, however, he is attacked by a large bat, which he kills, and in the process, destroys the stone cross positioned over the tomb, breaking the glass shielding the corpse of Asa; Kruvajan removes the “Mask of Satan”, revealing a decaying face with sunken dark sockets, although relatively intact, and cuts his hand in the commotion, although he knows nothing about it, blood begins to trickle into one of the dark sockets, beginning the process of reviving Princess Asa.

Back outside the Chapel, Kruvajan and Gorobec are startled by the sudden appearance of a beautiful young woman, Princess Katia Vajda (Barbara Steele) two Neopolitan mastiffs beside her. Noting the appearance of the Chapel, Katia recognises the state of disrepair, as her Father, Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani) refuses to acknowledge the ruins, as he believes it to be cursed. It is obvious that Dr. Gorobec has become smitten by the Princess, and refuses to say goodbye, hoping that they will meet again; with the carriage repaired, the two men continue their journey but decide to stay the night at Mirgorod, lodging at a local Inn, ran by the Innkeeper (Clara Bindi) and her daughter, Sonya (Germana Dominici).

At Castle Vajda, Katia, her brother, Constantine (Enrico Olivieri) and their Father are enjoying an evening together, two impressive paintings adorn the fireplace wall, depicting Princess Asa and Igor Javutich, in between sits a large ornamental fireplace, a family crest, that of a large Griffin, as its centrepiece, but the painting of Princess Asa makes Katia uneasy, which Prince Vajda recognises. He discusses the legend of the witch with housekeeper Ivan (Tino Bianchi) and believes that Asa will return to accomplish her revenge, and is tormented by her vengeance; Ivan attempts to put the Prince at ease, stating that these monsters are terrified by the sacred symbol of Christ. 

Meanwhile, back in the Vajda family crypt, Princess Asa continues with her rejuvenation, and calls for the “Serf of the Devil” Igor Javutich to rise from the grave and he duly obliges, slowly emerging from his unmarked burial and sets off in the direction of Castle Vajda, and attempts to murder Prince Vajda, only to be thwarted by a crucifix and quickly disappears into the darkness. With the Prince desperately ill, Katia and Constantine send for Dr. Kruvajan, who the Princess remembers is staying at the Inn at Mirgorod, however, Igor Javutich arrives and takes the doctor to the Castle, where he is led through a series of passageways and chambers, where, to his horror, he finds himself back in the Vajda family crypt. To his astonishment, Princess Asa’s tomb explodes, revealing a fully animated witch, a ghastly expression etched across her face, eyes bulging and a haunted grin complete the look; Asa calls for the terrified Kruvajan, “Just a few drops of your blood brought me to life again, all of your blood will give me the strength to accomplish my vengeance”, compelled to kiss the Princess, the doctor virtually seals his own fate.

Back at Castle Vajda, Princess Katia and Prince Constantine tend to their Father, who appears delirious, talking about the day of the damned, crucifixes and the man in the painting; Kruvajan enters the chamber, his appearance slightly altered. Katia, clearly worried, begs the doctor to help her Father, who puts the Prince into a state of sleep. Kruvajan attempts to allay the Princess’s fears, suggesting that her Father’s health isn’t at risk, but asks for the crucifix to be removed from his grasp, as he fears another reaction; feeling more at ease, the doctor persuades Katia and her brother to retire for the night.

The next morning, Katia and her brother Constantine are shocked when they discover their Father dead, his corpse emaciated and withered, whilst there is no sign whatsoever of Kruvajan; Katia sends word to Dr. Gorobec, who sets off immediately, and comes across the Innkeeper’s daughter Sonya, who is doing her chores by the river, for directions. However, the young girl is shocked to discover the dead body of Boris (Renato Terra) washed up along the bank. Gorobec arrives at Castle Vajda, where he is faced by an angry Constantine and is astounded to hear of the previous night’s events, and refuses to accept that his friend and colleague, Dr. Kruvajan, would simply disappear and leave his patient unaided, however the young Prince disagrees, “If he hadn’t left my father alone like this, he might still be alive, I must say, I don’t understand your colleague’s strange behaviour in this case”, Gorobec sadly agrees.

Constantine invites Gorobec to examine the body of the deceased Prince and is horrified to discover strange bite marks, causing Katia to faint; downstairs in the Great Hall, Ivan is besieged by angry villagers, demanding answers since the discovery of Boris’s corpse, which alerts Constantine and Gorobec, forcing the doctor to seek the aid of the local Parish Priest (Antonio Pierfederici) at the sacristy, and wishes to inspect the corpse, “It’s incredible; he died in the same horrible way as the Prince, the wounds on his neck look like the work of a wild beast, but one who punctures the flesh without tearing it”. The Priest appears nervous, and begins to describe the man in the painting, Igor Javutich; Gorobec also explains Kruvajan’s reaction to the crucifix. Determined to discover the truth, the young doctor returns to Castle Vajda, as the Prince is prepared to be put to rest; Gorobec sees Katia standing alone by a fountain, desperate and alone, her life destroyed day by day, and pointing to the garden, “Here is the very image of my life, look at it, it’s being consumed hour by hour, abandoned to a purposeless existence”, but Gorobec disagrees, and insists he’ll always be available to help, but still the Princess only feels hopelessness, terror, a presentment of death.

Back at Castle Vajda, a mysterious flame, preceded by a strange presence, sets alight the portrait of Igor Javutich, revealing a secret chamber, which Gorobec and Constantine decide to investigate, ordering Ivan the Housekeeper to remain as lookout, but no sooner have the pair disappeared into the painting, the poor man is throttled to death; the two men discover another painting of Princess Asa, and follow the passageways until they find themselves inside the Vajda family crypt, where the rejuvenated body of the witch remains; Gorobec suggests that they are indeed in the presence of some unnatural mystery. The doctor orders Constantine to return to Katia, whilst he prepares to meet with the Parish Priest, together they venture to the local cemetery, and discuss what needs to be done, “From what you tell me, there can be no more doubt, and we are faced by the unleashed powers of the Demon."

They begin the search for the grave of Igor Javutich, but find Kruvajan inside, leaving Gorobec in a state of disbelief, “Sometimes Satan, with his capacity of doing evil, even plays tricks with the dead”, the Priest muses, and places a crucifix on the older gentleman’s forehead, and releases him from his torment, by forcing a stake into his eye, “the witch had transformed your friend into the slave of the Devil, dead during the day, but alive by night, so that he could carry out Satan’s nefarious orders”, the Priest explains and tells Gorobec to go to Katia, as by possessing and entering the body of a young woman, the witch will live again.

At the Castle, as he makes his way back to Katia, Constantine is attacked and wounded by Javutich, leaving the Princess alone, and confused, as she discovers Ivan’s hanging corpse; she quickly about turns and makes her way to the Salon, where her Father lies in his casket, and begs him for guidance, “Don’t leave me alone with all of these horrors”, she sobs, but this quickly evaporates when the Prince opens his eyes, preparing to attack his daughter. Katia collapses in a heap, but before her Father can take a bite of her neck, he is attacked by Javutich and thrown into the fire, and destroyed. The “Serf of the Devil” picks up Katia and prepares her to be reunited with Princess Asa. In the Vajda family crypt, Javutich places the Princess next to her ancestor, “At last your vengeance is at hand Asa, now you’ll be free forever”, but he is disturbed by Gorobec, and disappears into the shadows. With the two Princesses’ side by side, Asa places a hand on Katia, and begins to drain her life-force; Katia begins to grow old at an alarming rate, whilst her ancestor becomes younger, her intentions are clear, Asa wants to assume the role of Katia and take her life in the process.

The determined Gorobec quickly heads along the passageways but comes face to face with the murderous Javutich, and a fight ensues and eventually the devious apparition is despatched down a trapdoor, onto a series of sharpened spikes; Constantine crawls from within the pit of spikes and informs the doctor to save the life of his sister, before perishing in his arms. Back in the Crypt, Princess Asa mocks Katia, explaining how she was born for this moment, how her life had been consecrated to her by Satan and she was now destined to enjoy a beautiful life of evil and hatred. After defeating Javutich, Gorobec makes his way into the Crypt and discovers Princess Asa, who is now pretending to be Katia, who suggests the witch wanted to kill her, she asks him to do something, and agrees, “We must destroy her forever, and I know how it can be done”, he reassures, and grabs a sharp object, begging her not to look. A smile runs away from Asa’s face, whilst Gorobec prepares to kill Katia, but he is stunned to see a crucifix around her neck and slowly realises that it is his beloved Princess and lurches for Asa, pulling at her robe, revealing a mass of muscle and bone, as she hasn’t quite finished rejuvenating, “No, I am not your love, there she lies, dead, forever, forever, my vengeance is complete, all of her family is destroyed, all, look Andre, look into my eyes, yes, look at me the way Kruvajan did that night, and, like him, lose yourself deep in my eyes. Don’t you feel the joy and the beauty of hating? Look!” Before Asa can finish, she is distracted by angry locals, led by the Parish Priest and they quickly corner her and take her outside, where she is tied to a stake and burnt to death; as Asa dies, Katia regains her life, much to Gorobec’s surprise and they embrace, the nightmare at an end.

The Origins of Black Sunday a.k.a The Mask of Satan

Although Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan was Mario Bava’s directorial debut, the modest Italian had actually assumed the role on a number of pictures, including I Vampiri (1956) replacing Riccardo Freda, The Giant of Marathon (1959) where he took over from Jacques Tourneur, Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959) after Freda had again walked out mid-production, and although he wasn’t granted screen credit for his tireless efforts, Bava had worked on all three pictures as a cinematographer. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, horror movies had been banned in Italy by Mussolini’s fascist regime, and were described as a “decadent subversion”, with the last to play during this period, Eugenio Testa’s The Monster of Frankenstein (1920), featuring Luciano Albertini as Baron Frankenstein, however, with the growth of Italian Cinema during the 1950’s, particularly with period dramas and sword’s and sandals epics, such as Slave Empress (1953) and Sins of Rome (1953), both of which had been directed by Riccardo Freda, a sculptor by trade, and it was during the latter movie that he met with Mario Bava, “Italy’s top cameraman”, admired for not only his technical awareness and speed, but also his ability to create efficient special effects, an art that was picked up whilst working alongside his father, Eugenio Bava, regarded as the “father” of special-effects photography in the Italian film industry.

In 1956, Freda hired Mario Bava to create the special effects on Castle of the Banned Lovers, a historical drama, noted for its visual arrangement; it was during this period that Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava decided to make a horror film together. After meeting with two producers, Ermanno Donati and Luigi Carpentieri, who also happened to be gambling friends, Freda informed them that he wanted to direct a horror film, and have Mario Bava as his cinematographer, and offered them a wager, he would make this particular film in only twelve days; Donati and Carpentieri were intrigued and asked for a treatment. The following day, Freda returned with a tape recording where he narrated the tale of a Duchess, who, in her attempts to stay young, would kidnap young girls and transfuse their blood, with the help of the mandatory mad doctor, all aided by sound effects. Impressed with Freda’s efforts and vision, Donati and Carpentieri approached Goffredo Lombardo, an executive producer of Titanus Produzione, who, at this point, was the most successful Italian Production Studio, in terms of size and stature; Titanus agreed to fund the picture, on the stipulation that it would be completed within the original timescale of twelve weeks.

Barbara Steele remembers Mario Bava, Black Sunday and Beyond

Having been given the green light from the production studio, Riccardo Freda brought in screenwriter Piero Regnoli, who had previously written It’s Never Too Late (1953), alongside Filippo Walter Ratti; the name of the picture, I Vampiri, was selected, although this was changed to Lust of the Vampire in a variety of countries, and filming began in the autumn of 1956, in Rome, although the production was fraught with personal differences and tension.

To bring Regnoli’s screenplay to life, Freda brought in former Miss Italy and his mistress, Gianna Maria Canale, as the lead actress for the role of the crazed Duchess, Giselle du Grand, who is obsessed with retaining her youth, whilst Carlo D’Angelo, Antoine Balpêtrè, Angelo Galassi, Dario MIchaelis and Wandisa Guida were also added to the cast, but it was to be Mario Bava’s dazzling cinematography, along with an array of special effects that made I Vampiri so inspiring, especially to the Italian horror movie industry, as Riccardo Freda explains:

"Bava was with me on I Vampiri, he was my cameraman; when we see Gianna Maria Canale visibly growing older, that was an invention by Bava, he used coloured lights and make-up done with the same tones so when the red lights dominated, then the make-up tone in the same colour could not be seen and her face would look so natural”.

The Invention that Freda relates to is the aging and rejuvenation process the Duchess underwent, where a variety of lines were drawn onto Canale’s face, in red greasepaint, which enabled them to be invisible when shooting with black and white stock, a little trickery involving dimming and green lighting would see the lines turn black, visibly aging the Duchess; this was a technique that Mario Bava would go on to perfect with Black Sunday.

Riccardo Freda on I Vampiri and Mario Bava

Ten days into the production of I Vampiri, Riccardo Freda abandoned the project, as many difficulties began to surface; at this time, only half of the script had been filmed and the director felt he needed more time to develop the story, however, Ermanno Donati and Luigi Carpentieri refused, leading to the director walking from the set. With production on the picture stalling, Mario Bava, alongside screenwriter Piero Regnoli, stepped in and salvaged the project, reworking the script, making it more simplified; amazingly, and to the delight of studio executives, Bava completed work on the picture within the original mandate of twelve days.

Although I Vampiri was a disappointment at the local box office, Galatea Films were suitably impressed enough with Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava’s efforts; they hired the pair to shoot Caltiki the Immortal Monster (1959), which features a team of archaeologists who investigate Mayan ruins, where they discover a blob-like creature. We can suggest that Caltiki almost ran along the same lines as I Vampiri, as midway through the production, Riccardo Freda again abandoned the picture, although, he states that this was done to force Mario Bava to again step in and save the project, believing the cinematographer had the necessary guile to become a director in his own right.

After Bava has stepped in a third time, assuming the role of director on The Giant of Marathon (1959), and had completed the film quickly and in an efficient manner, Nello Santi, of Galatea Films, offered him the chance to direct any project of his choosing and subsequently, he selected a short story that had always fascinated him, Nikolai Gogol’s 1865 “Viy”, as it had terrified his children whenever he had read it to them at bedtime.

Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960) I Vampiri: Alan Jones

Nikolai Gogol’s “Viy” tells the story of three monastery students, a theologian, Khaliava, a philosopher, Khoma Brut and the rhetorician Tibery Gorobets, on holiday, in search of adventure. After walking through the night, they come across a cottage owned by an old woman; initially, she refuses the three any hospitality, but relents after being reassured that no mischief will occur. Khoma Brut is stalked by the old woman as his friends sleep; she climbs onto his back and rides him until they reach the end of the property, where she falls to the floor, however, Brut is astonished as the old woman transforms into a beautiful woman while she sleeps. The monk quickly makes his escape, but is approached by the coachman of a wealthy Cossack Captain; the coachman, named Jantukh, informs him that the Captain’s daughter, who was found close to death, has requested Brut by name, as she wishes him to read the prayer of the dying over her and the psalms, to be performed three days after her death, for which he will be rewarded greatly. When Khoma Brut arrives, he discovers the Captain’s daughter is dead, and that he must spend three nights alongside her corpse in the family chapel, and begins to read the psalms over the young woman, however, for the next three nights, the witch stirs and assaults the monk by attacking him with a variety of demons and visions. He remains resistant and draws a chalk circle around himself, which results in him becoming invisible to the demons; the witch finally summons the “Viy”, a sinister demon with iron eyelids that can see through any such barrier, when raised, forcing the young monk to look where he sees a terrifying iron face staring back at him, and is attacked by monsters, resulting in Brut’s death.

In all honesty, very little remains from Nikolai Gogol’s original tale, in Black Sunday, aside from a Carpathian setting, and the names Khoma (Thomas) Gorobets (Gorobec) and Jantukh (Javutich), however, for me, the movie seems to be more related to the atmospheric gothic horror films of the early 1930’s, such as Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931) released by Universal Studios.

On 28th March, 1960, Mario Bava began shooting Black Sunday, with the working title, The Mask of the Demon, at Scalera Film Studios, with many of the exterior locations filmed at a Castello, in Arsoli, in Rome, owned at the time by Prince Vittorio Massimo; this was a trait of the Italian gothics, especially those made between 1956 and 1966, as many of the Princes’ and Counts’ were penurious, and often looked to rent out their properties to Italian film productions. For the dual roles of Princess Asa / Katia, Mario Bava chose Eighteen year old Barbara Steele, an English actress from Birkenhead, in Cheshire, and the director reportedly admitted that she was, “somewhat irrational at times and afraid of Italians”, and according to Germana Dominici, who played the role of the young Innkeeper’s daughter, Sonya, she told of how the actress failed to materialise on set, simply because someone had informed her that the director had perfected a specialised film stock that made fully clothed people suddenly appear naked; eventually, Bava tracked her down to her suite at the Grand Hotel, where he explained that if he had invented such a film stock, he wouldn’t have to work for a living anymore, however, he also saw the enormous potential that Steele possessed, especially within her dark beauty, and although the pair never worked together again, Mario Bava regretted this, believing that she had the perfect face for his films.

Barbara Steele admits that she never saw a script for Black Sunday, stating, “We were given the pages day to day, we hardly had any idea of what was going down on that film, we had no idea at the end or the beginning either, not at all, I’m sure that Bava knew, maybe he didn’t, but he was a very private man, and had a fabulous eye, he knew exactly what he wanted; everything was perfectly orchestrated with his sense of framing and light”. Alongside Barbara Steele was John Richardson, who today works as a photo journalist, but his career path almost follows that of his co-star, and was a male model, before being signed by Rank. Richardson performed opposite Barbara Steele when she featured in a screen-test for her very first movie, Bachelor of Hearts (1958) and again in Sapphire (1959) and both Richardson’s and Steele’s contracts were sold by Rank to 20th Century Fox, however, Steele left the organisation, whilst Richardson stayed for many years, featuring in many Hammer horror productions, such as She (1965), One Million Years B.C. (1966) and The Vengeance of She (1968), as well as performing in many Italian exploitation films, including Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973) and Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball (1975).

Originally, the head of Galatea Films, Nello Santi, wanted Mario Bava to shoot the picture in colour, but the director held firm, and insisted black and white would give the movie a more gothic feel, keeping with the look of the old Universal classics, and in this respect, there is little doubt that part of Black Sunday’s undeniable charm lies with Bava’s beautiful cinematography, alongside Giorgio Giovannini’s stunning production design, which includes a magnificent cemetery and a haunting chapel and crypt. Moreover, many of the film’s special effects, lovingly crafted by Mario Bava, with the help of his father, Eugenio, who created many of the wax masks and the “Mask of Satan”, which had been sculptured in bronze, wouldn’t have had the same effect if they had been filmed in colour; one particular example of this, we could suggest, would be the scene where Princess Asa and her counterpart, Katia, are side by side in the Vajda family crypt; Katia appears to age rapidly whilst Asa rejuvenates at an equally alarming rate.

As we have already discussed, Bava used this effect on I Vampiri, but on Black Sunday, he perfected it, and how, as the effect looks truly superb; the same effect is also used again when Asa burns at the stake towards the end of the film. We also have to talk about the performance of Barbara Steele in the picture, and there are many scenes we could discuss, but we’ll look at the scene where Princess Asa bursts from her tomb, and calls for the terrified Dr. Thomas Kruvajan to join her, thereafter draining him of life, he finds Asa both attractive and repulsive, and we can identify with him, as she radiates an alluring sense of sexuality, and yet, the hideous look on her face, the bulging eyes and insidious grin can quite literally unnerve, and yet we remain transfixed as the scene progresses, it really is a terrific performance from Steele.

Overall, we can see why both Mario Bava, and the beautiful Black Sunday, are so revered amongst horror aficionados around the world, as it is such a wonderful movie, timeless and historic, with some truly exceptional performances, most notably from Barbara Steele and John Richardson, but it is with Bava’s direction and vision, coupled with his eye for capturing an atmospheric and generally haunting scene, together with some remarkable special effects that is something to behold in every sense of the word, and the fact that this picture was his directorial debut makes it even more of an outstanding achievement; from Roberto Nicolosi’s breathtakingly superb score, Giorgio Giovannini’s stunning sets, not to mention Tina Grani’s delightful costumes, we can easily understand why, and now, we can sit down and watch the movie, alongside many of his other pictures, many of which are now being restored and given the high definition treatment, subsequently released onto Blu-ray, meaning they can be enjoyed time and time again, by a whole new generation of horror movie fans, both young and old, many of whom may not have experienced a Mario Bava chiller before, and by all accounts, Black Sunday would almost certainly be the perfect place to start.


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