Black Sunday (1960)

The mask of SATAN!

The mask of SATAN!

Black Sunday is Italian horror god Mario Bava’s directorial debut (at least, it’s the first feature-length film he’s credited as directing). Years ago, I’d rented it, watched 10 minutes and shut it off. Frankly, I don’t know what was wrong with me all those years ago; my attention span must have been shorter than a nit’s. Thankfully, in my old age I’ve grown a little wiser, and knowing Black Sunday was necessary viewing, I gave it a second try.

Here’s the thing about Mario Bava: his movies are fucking gorgeous (I suppose it makes sense, then, that he’s credited as cinematographer on almost twice as many movies as he is director) and Black Sunday is no exception. Bava’s vision takes place is an eerie, foggy, strange Moldavia. Back in the good old 1690’s Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and her lover Javuto are considered guilty of sorcery. Before the mask of satan is nailed into her face to seal her fate, Asa vows vengeance against her killer’s descendants, who just happen to be her own – it is her brother who is to put her to death.

The beautiful Barbara Steele...

The beautiful Barbara Steele…

Centuries later, a doctor and his protégé are taking the scenic route through the evil woods where the murders happened so long ago, and they come across Asa’s tomb in the family’s graveyard. Just like anyone would, the good doctor Krujavan snoops around and accidentally  breaks the glass of the coffin, cutting himself. His blood (don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming) brings Asa back to life. Her mission: bring back Javuto from the dead and take over the body of her identical descendant Katia. 

Pretty typical horror plot stuff going on here (one could call this movie ‘gothic as fuck’ if one were so inclined), and as I mentioned previously, it’s beautiful to look at. By all accounts, I should love this movie. But for some reason, I was really bothered by the way it portrays women: you’re either an evil,

I wouldn't horse around in this forest.

I wouldn’t horse around in this forest.

terrible witch vampire or a frightened babe-in-the-woods who can’t do a god damn thing for herself. Normally this type of thing doesn’t bother me; I don’t watch movies with an ultra-feminist eye (I love Cronenberg, for chrissakes) but here it frustrated the shit out of me. I found Katia so tiresome I could do nothing but sigh every time she cried for help. I wish I could pinpoint what made this movie so different from all the other old-timey horror movies where women are helpless, but I can’t quite do it. I’m not going to say it ruined the movie for me, but it definitely made it a three-star instead of a four-star. Either way, it certainly won’t keep me from watching more Bava; in fact I am interested to see how the rest of his filmography stacks up to this flick.


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