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Oct 23, 2014

October 2014 Horror Movie a Day - Day 22: BLACK SUNDAY [a.k.a. La maschera del demonio - The Mask of Satan] (1960)


When a horror picture opens with a witch about to be burned at the stake and vowing on the name of Satan that she will return for vengeance before having a mask with spikes nailed onto her face, you better realize that she means business.

Yes you'll bleed and it will be extremely painful, but this mask won't fall off once it is nailed on.
Thus begins Mario Bava's Black Sunday - also known as The Mask of Satan - an atmospheric, Gothic horror that was banned in many countries when originally released, and heavily censored in the U.S. Oh and let's be clear, it bares no resemblance to the 1977 action thriller with the same name starring Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern that had terrorists planning to attack the Super Bowl (although that is also a great film).

That other 'Black Sunday' got to watch a football game. We get to hang around in crypts.
Two centuries after the witch - played by Barbara Steele - has that mask nailed to her face and is burned alive, a doctor (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant (John Richardson) are traveling to a medical conference when their carriage gets the 19th century equivalent of a flat tire. They venture off to a nearby crypt while waiting because of course the most logical thing to do in a situation like this is to check out the local cemetery. The doctor is intrigued by the witch's mask, and breaks the coffin open - as well as the cross above it (bad move). He removes the mask to reveal the corpse of the witch, partially preserved and staring up at him - without eyes. The assistant is spooked and wants to leave and as the doctor follows him, he cuts himself on some glass and blood drips onto the corpse. Way to go doctor, you have just resurrected a Satan-loving, blood-sucking, hateful witch.

The bugs crawling in and out of my eye sockets are pets.
Outside the crypt they run into a princess named Katia (also played by Steele) who the assistant becomes instantly enamored with. She lives in a nearby castle that the villagers all think is haunted. Their carriage fixed, the two men head to a nearby Inn where the assistant gets drunk and obsesses about Katia, while the doctor decides to take a walk in the fog enshrouded, unwelcoming countryside.

I feed this dog human children as a snack.
Resurrected, the witch summons her assistant Javuto (Arturo Dominici) from the grave (he was also burned alive and had a mask nailed on his face) who heads to the castle. There he runs into Katia's father who fends the zombie-like Javuto off with a crucifix but is then stricken with fright. The castle sends for the doctor, but Javuto intercepts him and takes him to the witch's crypt. There she offers him a night of pleasure (yeah, not passing that up) and eternal life as she drinks his blood. He then kills Katia's father which doesn't sit well at the castle.

Err just ignore the holes in my face, think of them as a bad case of undead acne.
The witch believes that if she drains Katia's blood that she will remain immortal because after all, both roles are played by the same actress. The assistant gets into the act when he finds the doctor missing. Can the good looking assistant stop the vampires and win the heart of the lovely and endangered Katia? The odds are pretty high.

This is what this place looks like in the middle of the afternoon!
This is a great old-school, Gothic horror movie - shot in black-and-white, eerie castle with scary paintings on the wall, vampires and even a mob of townspeople with torches and pitchforks - but with some very modern and graphic additions like the masks being nailed on faces (then being peeled off later), bugs crawling in and out of corpses, and a vampire witch openly seducing a male victim. I also have to say the sketchy English dubbing added an extra layer of enjoyment for me especially during one fight sequence where the grunts and groans were uncommonly loud and completely out of sync with what was happening on screen.

Does this robe make me look fat?
Barbara Steele makes the perfect vampire with AND damsel in distress. I wonder if she got paid twice for that.

Oh great, another obsessed admirer.
Director Bava knows how to set the tone in his horror pictures, and this is easily one of his best. A perfect midnight movie.