Black Sunday La maschera del demonio
Mario Bava, Italy, 1960, 35mm, 1.66, b&w, 87′, in Italian with Slovene subtitles
Print provided courtesy of Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.
In 17th century Moldavia, the beautiful Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) and her serf, Igor Javutich, are sentenced to a gruesome death for witchcraft by Asa’s Inquisitor brother, Prince Vajda. But before the executioner hammers a spiked bronze mask onto her face, Asa lays a curse on the House of Vajda, vowing her revenge. Two centuries later, doctor Kruvajan and his young colleague Gorobek are travelling through these parts, unknowingly resurrecting the Princess-Witch…
Cited by Francis Ford Coppola for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Tim Burton for Sleepy Hollow, Bava’s Black Sunday stands as the first fully fledged example of Italian horror cinema, and considered by many as its absolute pinnacle. An undisputable horror classic, it marked the birth of the Italian Gothic, launched Mario Bava’s directing career and established Barbara Steele as horror film’s iconic scream queen.
“I never wanted to be a director, because, in my opinion, a director has to be a true genius; besides, I was comfortable being a cameraman, I earned lots of money. Years earlier, I had discovered The Viy by Gogol – a stupendous story! Before we had television, I used to read it to my children and, scared to death, they would sleep together in the middle of the bed, the poor things. Because at the time [Hammer’s] Dracula had been released, I thought I might do a horror film. So I made Black Sunday, and the only thing left of Gogol’s tale was the name of the protagonist. It made five billion lire in America alone and I became a director. /…/ [Barbara] somewhat irrational, afraid of Italians. One day she refused to come to the set because somebody told her I was using a special film-stock that made people appear naked. I assured her that, if I had this kind of film, I’d have made millions long ago!”
– Mario Bava
“One of the movies that remain with me probably stronger than anything is Black Sunday… there’s a lot of old films – [Bava’s] in particular – where the vibe and the feeling is what it’s about… The feeling’s a mixture of eroticism, of sex, of horror and starkness of image, and to me that is more real than what most people would consider realism in films.”
– Tim Burton
“Eerie, hallucinatory – essential Bava. /…/ So potent was the film’s graphic imagery that its US distributor, American International Pictures, trimmed Black Sunday by a few shots… and the British sensors refused to allow the film into England until 1968! Had the European version of the film prevailed in its time, it’s possible that Herschell Gordon Lewis would not be known as the Father of Splatter Films today.”
– Tim Lucas, Fangoria
“Seeing this film on the big screen, with its incredibly expressive cinematography, set and costume design, leaves on the viewer an impression of such stunning beauty, that even the scenes of the most extreme violence – as perverse as it sounds – function as pure poetry, without losing any of their edge… Black Sunday remains one of the greatest horror films of all times, and we can easily say that, in the entire post-war period, there isn’t a film which could match the quality of its black and white photography.”
– Igor Kernel, Ekran
“A rich draught of vampire’s blood. With its crypts and cobwebs and eerie old castles set in batty, steamy forests, it’s sumptuous enough to have acquired a considerable reputation.”
– Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights At The Movies