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Black Sunday is, above all else, an exercise in style. This is a beautifully shot film with Bava making great use out of his lush black and white photography. The film is gorgeous from start to finish, but I do want to discuss two scenes in particular, with the first one being the opening scene. The opening scene is one of the best scenes in the film and probably the most famous. This is of course the scenes where Asa and Javuto are executed. Interestingly, the film actually picks up in the middle of the scene, after which Javuto has been executed and right before Asa has been put to death. By doing this, Bava is able to establish very early on that Asa is the central character to this film while Vajuto is more of a supporting character, an important move as it very economically allows Bava to set up the relationship between the two. But more than this the scene also works because it is among the best scenes every film in term of Gothic Horror. The scene has a highly nightmarish quality about it, and the background utilized here is both beautiful in its own right while also being highly reminiscent of some of the classic Universal films of the 1930s and 1940s. Bava also utilizes slow camera movements here in a move that helps to craft a highly deliberate and somber tone that helps set the stage for the rest of the film rather nicely.
This movie contains examples of: Adaptation Name Change: Khoma Brut becomes Choma (with a 'C') Kruvajan, Tibery Gorobets becomes Andrej Gorobec, and the witch (who's unnamed in the original story) is named Asa Vajda. The AIP dub changes Choma's name to Thomas (which is the Anglicized form of Choma), Andrej to Andreas, and Igor Javutich to Javuto. Aristocrats Are Evil: Princess Asa and Prince Javutich are servants of the Devil. Her brother, the inquisitor, isn't so nice either. However, the inquisitor's 19th Century descendent are all presented as okay people. Back from the Dead: Asa and Javutich are killed by a mob at the start of the story. Due to her dark magic, Asa is able to bring them back to life many years later. Big Bad: Princess Asa Vadja is the vampiric sorceress who's terrorizing the area of Moldavia. Bittersweet Ending: Katia and Dr. Gorobec survive and Asa's influence is purged forever, but the latter's master and the former's entire family except her brother are dead, and he's going to perish from neck wounds. Bowdlerise: The American International Pictures release of the film, which cut down on some of the gore, as well as turning Javutich into the servant of Asa, removing the incest angle. The original title 'The Mask of Satan' was also removed. Black Magic: Asa is a sorceress. She plans to drain the life force of her distant grand-niece Katia with her powers and possess her body. Burn the Witch!: The mob at the start burn Asa as well as putting a spiked mask on her face. Design Student's Orgasm: The film has a great deal of scenery porn and elaborate sets. Dying Curse: Asa curses her brother and his descendants as she is being burned by the mob.'I place a curse upon you!' Event Title Evil-Detecting Dog: The Vajdas' dogs are alarmed when Asa has come back to life. Evil Minions: Javutich is Asa's servant (or brother, in the Italian version) and helps her carry out her plans. Eye Scream: The metal mask put on Asa has spikes on the inside. Her eyes are gouged out and bleed profusely from the eye hole. Later, when the mask is removed from her body, her eyes have rotted out and bugs are crawling from the sockets. Later on, Kruvajan's corpse is staked through the eye so that his soul may rest in peace. Fainting: Katia has a dramatic faint upon the discovery that her father was killed by a vampire. Bookcase Passage: There's a secret passage behind a fireplace in the castle, which various characters use to sneak in and out. Hot Witch: Asa, who uses her beauty to try and lure in unsuspecting mortals to be her servant.'Embrace me. I can bring you pleasures mortals cannot know!' Hypnotic Eyes: One of Asa's abilities is controlling humans with her eyes.'Look into my eyes!' Identical Grandson: Katia and (100 years prior to her) Pasha, who both look exactly like Asa. Incest Subtext: Asa and her servant Javutich are brother and sister in the original Italian version with the incestuous subtext being played up. Kick the Dog: When Andre arrives to rescue Katia, Asa pretends to be her and tries to convince Andre to kill her out of spite for losing. Life Drinker: Asa wants to maintain her life by draining that of Katia's. No Kill like Overkill: Dr. Kruvajan inadvertently frees Ada when he gets attacked by a bat, and promptly shoots it and then beats it to death with his cane. Ominous Fog: A fog immediately rolls in when Asa's servant Javutich comes for Dr. Kruvajan. Our Vampires Are Different: Asa does not have fangs, drains lifeforce as well as/instead of blood, and is also skilled in black magic. Our Zombies Are Different: Javutich seems to be a type of revenant zombie-vampire, obeying Asa's commands and shambling about. He is actually more similar to folkloric vampires than the classic incarnations of cinema and literature. Rapid Aging: Katia when Asa attempts to drain and possess her. When Katia survives and Asa is in turn killed, this fate befalls her instead. Red Eyes, Take Warning: The film itself is black and white and does not show Asa having red eyes. Posters for the film (see above) do apply this trope, however. Scenery Porn: The film focuses heavily on the creepy, Moldavian landscape. Sealed Evil in a Can: Asa is kept in her grave with a metal mask nailed onto her face, and a crucifix seen by her through a window in her coffin. The Sociopath: Princess Asa Vadja, a Wicked Witch so feared that her own brother killed her and sealed her soul in her tomb. When she returns from the grave, death hasn't changed her one bit and she decides to kill her entire family because of his actions, in spite of them being her righteous punishment for the numerous horrid crimes that she had committed. Spooky Painting: The portraits of Asa and Javuto, which seem to be alive. Torches and Pitchforks: The mob uses this standard equipment when confronting and killing Asa. Vocal Dissonance: Barbara Steele is British, yet in this film's English dub, an American actress dubbed her voice. A variety of American actresses dubbed her voice in English in other Italian films she made. This is due to Italy's dubbing unions not letting her dub herself. Wicked Witch: Asa, who, though pretty, does sure her enemies and uses her powers for various, evil purposes.
Galatea had wanted the film to be Technicolor but Bava insisted on black and white which, being an experienced lighting cameraman, he stylistically exploited to give the production a near expressionist atmosphere and look. However, there was a more practical reason in that required transformation sequences could only be achieved with red and green light filters which could not work with colour.
When Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) is attacked by a giant rubber bat while exploring an old crypt with his assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson), he accidentally smashes the stone cross positioned over the coffin of vampiric witch Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele); to make matters worse, he removes the mask covering her face, cutting himself in the process (silly old doctor). With the cross destroyed, the mask gone, and the doctor's blood dripping into the coffin, Asa is resurrected, and, with the help of fellow vamp Javuto (Arturo Dominici), she wreaks revenge on the ancestors of those who sentenced her to death.The opening scene to Mario Bava's Black Sunday AKA The Mask of Satan delivers one of the most potent images in the history of Italian horror cinema: a spiked, metal devil mask being hammered onto the face of vampiric witch Asa Vajda (squelch!). Unfortunately, so shocking and brutal is this scene that, as impressive as Bava's beautiful black and white cinematography is throughout the rest of his film, there is nothing to rival Asa's brutal execution in terms of sheer horror, making everything that follows something of a let-down.This feeling of disappointment isn't helped by the hoary old Gothic horror nonsense that unfolds, which is loaded with tired genre clichés (creaky old doors, stormy weather, cobweb covered tombs, hidden passageways, villagers armed with pitchforks and torches) and which suffers from a script packed with verbose dialogue that is frequently laughable (example: "What is my life? Sadness and grief. Something that destroys itself day by day and no-one can rebuild it. Here is the very image of my life. Look at it it is being consumed hour by hour like this garden, abandoned to a purposeless existence."). Inspired use of light and shadow and acute visual lyricism can only excuse so much.
This was Bava's directorial debut - although he had already directed several scenes without credit in other films. By 1960's standards, this is a pretty gory film, leading to it being banned in the UK and chopped up by its US distributor American International Pictures.In the 1600's, the witch Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele, creating her legacy as the horror female supreme) and her lover Javuto are put to death by her brother. Before she is burned at the stake and has a metal mask hammered to her face, she curses their entire family.Several centuries later, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan and his assistant, Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson, Frankenstein '80) ae traveling to a medical conference when their carriage breaks down. Of course, they're in a horror movie, so they wander into an ancient crypt and release Asa from her death mask and getting blood all over her face.That's when they meet her descendent Katia (also Steele), whose family lives in the haunted castle that of the Vajdas. Gorobec instantly falls for her and really, can you blame him?All hell literally breaks loose, with Asa and Javuto coming back from the dead, possessing Dr. Kruvajan and concocting a plan to make Asa immortal by stealing Katia's youth. Can good triumph against evil? Can you kill a vampire by stabbing wood into its eye socket? Which one is hotter, good or evil Barbara Steele?A lover of Russian fantasy and horror, Bava intended this film to be an adaption of Nikolai Gogol's 1835 horror story "Viy." However, the resulting script owes more to Universal Studios-style gothic horror. AIP cut or shortened the branding scene, blood spraying from the mask after it was hammered into Asa's face, the eyeball impaling and the flesh burning off Vajda's head in the fireplace. And in the Italian version, Asa and Javutich are brother and sister in an incestuous relationship.Black Sunday has left quite an impression on fans and filmmakers alike. Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula contains several shot-for-shot homages, as does Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. And Richard Donner based the cemetery scene in The Omen on the moment when Barbara Steele with her hounds.For a director who is so well known for his work in color, Bava has just as much skill in black and white. The sets were actually created in monochrome, with no color, to add to the dark mood.My favorite scene in the film is when Bava creates a split screen effect where Steele's two roles come together, as Asa intones, "You did not know that you were born for this moment. You did not know that your life had been consecrated to me by Satan. But you sensed it, didn't you? You sensed it... That's why my portrait was such a temptation to you, while frightened you. You felt like your life and your body were mine. You felt like me because you were destined to become me... a useless body without life." 781b155fdc