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Black Sunday (1960)


In this darkly atmospheric chiller, a mysterious young woman is executed as a witch, but not before placing a curse upon those who have condemned her – a horrible vengeance that is fulfilled some 200 years later in a riot of pure terror!
In one of the most auspicious directorial debuts in movie history, Italian director Mario Bava bridged the gap between the gothic horror picture and the European art film with Black Sunday (aka La maschera del demonio or The Mask of Satan). Made in 1960 (a banner year for groundbreaking horror films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom), and now considered a cult classic, it continues to reverberate through cinema, inspiring and influencing new generations of filmmakers. In Black Sunday, the bewitching, wild-eyed Barbara Steele (Fellini’s 8 ½; Shivers) plays Princess Asa, a high priestess of Satan who is gruesomely tortured and executed in 1600s Moldavia by having a spiked mask hammered into her face. Before she dies, Asa vows vengeance on the family who killed her and returns from the grave two centuries later to keep her promise by wreaking bloody vengeance. With vampires, bubbling flesh, dank crypts, undead servants and torch-bearing mobs, the film’s plot is pure, high-grade gothic horror, but the visuals are the stylish Mario Bava’s primary concern. Fog, shadows and sinister black and white photography create an overwhelmingly dense and foreboding atmosphere, and the sheer, ghastly beauty of it all is entrancing. Although this was Bava’s first feature-length film in a career that spanned 26 films (including such horror classics as Planet of the Vampires and Blood and Black Lace), Black Sunday is the legendary genre master’s signature work and a milestone in Italian horror cinema. (Dir. by Mario Bava, 1960, Italy, in Italian with English subtitles, 87 mins., Not Rated)

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