Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
A lot of images are associated with the term gothic. Whether it’s the flying buttresses of old cathedrals, the distressed damsels of 18th century novels, or black lipstick and Hot Topic, the unifying associations are those of darkness and beauty. Early gothic stories and films find a balance between beauty and the macabre that is prevalent in the genre. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, while committing monstrous deeds, remains refined and elegant. The gothic can be opulent and ugly. Mario Bava’s 1960 gothic horror film Black Sunday is one of the prettiest and most metal looking movies to date.
Black Sunday is a story of vengeance. This film begins with intense violence. Princess Asa Vajda, an accused sorceress is executed along with her sorcerer lover Javucitch. It was her brother, the prince, who handed down the death sentence. Before her gruesome death, she places a curse on the family and vows her return. This scene is what heavy metals videos wish they were. It is a badass opening. There are super buff executioners, spiked iron masks, hooded figures, and Barbara Steele, a woman renown for her beauty, tied to a tree. During its original debut, Black Sunday was banned by some theaters for being too violent. The opening scene is a good indicator of this because a spiked iron mask (the mask of the devil) is hammered into the witch’s. The amount of blood that gushes out is impressive.
Princess Asa is resurrected centuries later when a really dumb physician stops by to visit her crypt. Not only does he accidentally break open her tomb, he intentionally removes her death mask, and drops blood on her. Asa can return once she finds a suitable body. Lucky for her, her descendant Princess Katia looks just like her. While she gathers strength, she awakens her dead lover Igor Javucitch played by Arturo Dominici. Javucitch awakens and begins to kill people vampire style. Will Asa take over Katia, or will she be saved by her own loving brother and Dr. Kruvajan’s protege Dr. Andrej Gorobec?
This film goes all out with the gothic conventions. Castles, secret passageways, and witches all come together to play out this interesting romance between Katia and Dr. Gorobec, while also making a commentary on family loyalty. Katia and her brother have a bond that Asa never had with her own brother, probably because she was a murderous spell caster, but all the same, the envy Asa has for Katia is evident. She makes fun of Katia because she is a victim and she tells her that she could have had a life of love and happiness, but after Asa takes over her body, she will know a life of hate and rage.
Before directing Black Sunday, Bava had a background in painting and experience in cinematography. In Black Sunday, it is clear how all these talents come together. While Black Sunday is a black and white film, the lighting is remarkable in its usage. When Princess Katia first appears she is framed between the remnants of a crypt ravaged by time. The use of setting and lighting almost casts a spotlight on Katia’s arrival, adding drama and power to her entrance.
Black Sunday is a classic film that has often been credited with giving Bava his true directorial beginning and launching Barbara Steel’s acting career. Dark and fun, Black Sunday is a little tame by today’s standards overall, but its opening scene makes up for it with its brutal violence. Watch Black Sunday during the witch’s sabbat and curse your future descendants.
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