Review: Black Sunday (1960)

Black Sunday
aka La maschera del demonio (original title)
aka The Mask of Satan

Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi

Classics. They’re oft-disputed. One would be hard-pressed to find a work of literature or cinema that everyone agrees is both historically important and artistically relevant. But everyone seems to agree that Black Sunday is one of the best horror films ever made. Why? Well, I can think of a few reasons.

The film is centered on a centuries-old curse and the repercussions of living in a castle that opens into a tomb. Barbara Steele plays a dual role – She’s both the evil zombie/vampire/witch (named Asa) and the young princess (named Katia) whose life is constantly threatened by the forces of evil. John Richardson is her newfound lover/lifesaver/hunk (named Andre) who has to work fast to keep up with Asa’s path of destruction.

Okay, so you think you’ve heard that one before. Everyone has. Princess in distress, evil vampire on the loose, townspeople with pitchforks and torches – It’s all quite familiar. But Black Sunday has something else. Black Sunday has —

Hold on. Wait. Can we look at the movie like normal people? Can we forget that it’s a classic and just watch the damn thing?

The only reason this movie is held in such high esteem is Barbara Steele and her endlessly interesting facial features. She gives a great performance and elevates the movie far beyond what it would have been otherwise. Director Mario Bava presents the film in a Hammeresque way, relying on stuffy performances and stuffier costumes, mist-filled cemeteries and dust-covered castles. The direction is competent, the performances are competent, the plot is competent. Bava throws in a few fancy flourishes, but Black Sunday is a gore-peppered arthouse piece, just classy enough to appease serious film buffs and just scary enough to appeal to horror fans. It places feet in both parties and refuses to budge.

And so it’s a classic. People ignore the fact that the romantic subplot is incredibly cheesy and that the movie’s pace slows to a dead crawl for most of the first hour. When you bring up the movie around those who have seen it, they remember Barbara Steele and… maybe someone famous directed it?

That being said, Black Sunday is worth seeing. Ms. Steele deserves every bit of acclaim she gets for her performance, and it’s obvious why she’s most often associated with this film instead of The Pit and the Pendulum or Curse of the Crimson Altar. This is her movie, and she carries it well. As for the rest of the film, it’s really nothing too special.

But it’s a classic, I suppose. So you have to watch it. Don’t look at me – I’m not in charge of these things.


Amazon – Black Sunday DVD
Amazon – Black Sunday VHS
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer

One Response to “Review: Black Sunday (1960)”
  1. las artes says:

    [recalling her career in the documentary “A-Z of Horror” (1997)] I usually played these roles where I represented the dark side. I was always a predatory bitch goddess in all of these movies, and with all kinds of unspeakable elements. Then what is life without a dark side? The driving force of drama is the dark side. These women that I played usually suffered for it, and I guess men like that.

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