Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Ennio De Concini and Mario Serandrei
Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson and Andrea Checchi
A vengeful witch and her fiendish servant return from the grave and begin a bloody campaign to possess the body of the witch’s beautiful look-alike descendant. Only the girl’s brother and a handsome doctor stand in her way.
Seriously – they don’t make movies like this anymore. Italian horror from the 1960’s was its own animal and Black Sunday stands the test of time. Even (or in spite of) by today’s horror standards, this film shines like a black diamond in the rough. You know you’re in for a treat when witchcraft, Satanism, and a ritualistic murder occurs within the first five minutes. This was Bava’s directorial debut – what a freshman effort this is. The black and white film is full of Gothic imagery and poetic misery, leading the viewer down a winding mountainside road of terror. If you saw the film The Shrine, you might recognize the classic spiked face mask driven by hammer. The classics.
Steele is great in her dual role as the witch/ancestor, Vajda/Princess Asa Vajada, providing facial expressions a lot of modern actors wouldn’t be able to access, let alone bring to the screen with such riveting conviction. A simple face shot of Steele goes a long way. It’s almost like a musical where everything is exaggerated for the viewer. Younger viewers will hate this kind of film unless they’re serious fans of the art, and it is a lost art for certain. Atmosphere goes a long way in these old horror films, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Corman/Price film or Italian directors like Bava. This easily equals the lore and legend that Universal cranked out if not downright eclipsing some of it. No disrespect to that era, but not every film was a top 100 contender.
If you’re a horror fiend or cinephile, I suggest you dial up the ‘ol Netflix and enjoy this while it’s available for streaming. Any fan will adore the fake spider webs, foggy landscapes, candelabra, and creeping insanity Black Sunday brings. Grab a bag of marshmallows for the end. Death pyre not optional.