Black Sunday (1960) – Mario Bava

Mario Bava’s fantastic gothic feature, Black Sunday aka The Mask of Satan is the next title in Ten Bad Dates With De Niro. This brilliant film, which I had never seen before, has all the enjoyable gothic ambience of Corman’s takes on Poe like The Fall of the House of Usher, and some wonderful gore which seems to be the trademark of some of the more inventive Italian auteurs.

Barbara Steele takes on a duo role as Asa and Katia. Asa was a witch, who was killed in a religious ceremony involving a mask (of Satan) being nailed to her face. Two hundred years later, Katia, one of the family’s many descendants is about to be embroiled in a horrifying tale of resurrection and vengeance.

Bava makes great use of the black and white film he shoots on, creating a truly dread-filled and menacing atmosphere to the film, even as it dives into some standard tropes, ghosts, resurrections, hidden tunnels, and more.

Steele garnered a name for herself, becoming nearly synonymous with horror, and she absolutely captivates on screen in her dual role.

Upon its release, the film was censored by the States, and was actually banned, initially, in the United Kingdom. Their loss, because this film definitely indicates that Bava would be a talent to be reckoned with, working easily within the trappings of gothic horror, and making it his own.

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Taking into account the film was released in 1960, the special effects from the gore to the makeup are all top of the line, wonderfully inventive, and I can imagine that, at the time, this film would have been quite shocking. But to cinephiles like myself, that would have just made us seek it out all the more.

Having said that, I can’t believe that it has actually taken me this long to see this movie. This was a fantastic watch, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I didn’t mind seeing familiar tropes and ideas play out (possession, the seeds of a love story, ancient terror, traps, you know the usual haunted house and gothic themes), because I was eager to see the way in which Bava used them.

And he did not disappoint.

Until this point I think I knew more of Argento’s work, but this one has definitely tweaked my interest in Bava’s. Any recommendations for which one to watch next?

If you’ve not seen it, track it down, settle in, and just enjoy. This is a masterful film, and I was delighted in trying to figure out how he achieved some of his effects. This one should be a must for horror fans, so make sure you find it, watch it, and enjoy!

Meanwhile, I will be digging into yet another title in Ten Bad Dates With De Niro, and reviewing more films that haven’t found their way to the blog yet.

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