(Mario Bava, 1960)
Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and her servant Prince Javutich are branded as vampires (literally!) and put to death by having spike-lined masks hammered onto their faces. Quite a grand opening, I must say! Two hundred years later, Dr Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) and his colleague Dr Kruvajan have some mechanical issues with their carriage and, while it's being repaired, go off to explore the nearby ruins of a chapel. In the crypt they happen upon Asa's tomb, and unwittingly revive her when blood from Kruvajan's wounded hand drips onto her.
Upon exiting the crypt, the doctors are confronted by Katia Vajda (Steele, again!), whose family owns a large castle and the previously mentioned chapel. They part ways, but are soon reunited when Prince Vajda is nearly scared to death by Javutich. When the inhabitants of the castle begin to drop off and Asa's purpose is made known, it's soon up to Andre to save Katia's life and soul.
This is THE Italian horror film that started it all. Given when it was released, it's quite a gruesome and violent little outing! Faces are nailed, melted, reconstructed, aged... the special effects were groundbreaking. It also contains a lot of implied sexuality for the time. However, that's not to say that Black Sunday is all about the gore, torn shirts, and bondage.
Nary a frame is wasted in this film. Bava makes the most out of every fog and cobweb-draped scene, and he treats us to an abundance of closeups, extreme angles, and 360 degree pan shots. Silhouettes, light, and shadow are expertly applied to the graveyard, crypt, and castle scenes, and in themselves imply more menace than the off-screen deaths. Barbara Steele is magnificent in her dual roles, switching from vampiric vixen to innocent victim with ease. This is essential viewing for fans of Italian AND classic horror. Buy it here.
10 months ago