Italian Horror Cinema month concludes with 'BLACK SUNDAY'

by Joey Paur

This was is one of the best Italian Horror movies I have seen, and my #1 pick for this Halloween.

The Italian horror classic ‘Black Sunday' came out in 1960, and was directed by Mario Bava. This was Marios first solo directing gig and he nailed it right in the face. This is a fantastic story about Vampires. It changed the way people saw Vampires. Before this movie most vampires were seen as the classic Bella Lugosi version of Dracula. This movie changed that. There are certain aspects of the film that make it stand out. First of all it is a story about vengeful blood-thirsty vampire. There were dark expressions of cruelty and sexual suggestion that many people weren't ready for. People were shocked by this film the British Censor even banned the film. I have to say it is one of the best horror films ever made.

The movie takes place inn Moldavia, during the year 1630. I starts out with a attractive witch named Asa Vajda (Steele) and her lover Javuto (Arturo Dominici) being sentenced to death for sorcery and witchcraft by Asa's brother. Before being burned at the stake, Asa vows revenge and puts a curse on her brother's descendants. A metal mask with sharp spikes on the inside is placed over the witch's face and hammered repeatedly into her flesh.

About two hundred years after Asa is killed, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan and his assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec, are traveling through Moldavia when one of the wheels of their carriage is broken. While they wait for their coachman to fix the wheel, the two wander off into a nearby ancient crypt and discover Asa's tomb. As they are looking at her death mask through a glass panel, Kruvajan breaks the panel to take it out and look at it. Asa's partially preserved corpse is visible underneath, her face staring out malevolently. During this Kruvajan is attacked by a bat and he cuts his hand on the broken glass. Some of his blood drips onto Asa's dead face.

The witch Asa is brought back to life by Kruvajan's blood. She then telepathically contacts Javuto and orders him to rise from his grave. He does so and heads off to Prince Vajda's castle, where Vajda holds up a crucifix to ward the reanimated corpse away. However, Vajda is so terrified by the visit that he becomes paralyzed with fear. Katia and Constantin send a servant to fetch Dr. Kruvajan, but the servant is killed before he can reach the inn. It is the evil Javuto who arrives to bring Kruvajan to the castle. Javuto leads Kruvajan to Asa's crypt, and he watches in horror as her coffin explodes spectacularly. From its ruins, the vampire-witch rises and attacks the doctor, drinking his blood. Under Asa's command, the now vampiric Kruvajan enters Vajda's room and murders him.

Asa's plan is to drain Katia of her blood, believing that this act will grant her immortality. A little girl who had seen Javuto meet Kruvajan at the inn describes the dead man to Gorobec. A priest recognizes the description as being that of Javuto. The priest and Gorobec go to Javuto's grave and find Kruvajan hiding inside. Realizing that he is a vampire, they immediately kill the fiend by ramming a long wooden stake through one of his eye sockets.

Javuto finds Katia and takes her to Asa. Asa attempts to drink her blood but is thwarted by the crucifix around her neck. Gorobec enters the crypt to save Katia but finds Asa instead. Asa pretends to be Katia and tells Gorobec that the now weakened and unconscious Katia is really the vampire. She tells him to kill Katia immediately by staking her. He agrees but at the last possible moment he notices the crucifix she is wearing. He turns to Asa and opens her robe, revealing a fleshless skeletal frame. The priest then arrives with numerous torch-carrying villagers, and they burn Asa to death. Katia awakens from her stupor, her life and beauty fully restored.

Black Sunday also went much further in terms of gore and violence than what American's were used to seeing. In fact before the movie could be shown in America they had to cut out about 3 min of the movie considered to violent. The version I watched had these scenes in it.

One scene that had to be cut short was when Asa was being branded with the mark of Satan on her back. The other scene was when blood spewed out when they hammered the spiked devil mask onto Asa's face. Then there was the flesh peeling off Vajda's face as he burned to death in the fireplace, and a moist eyeball impalement. There was some dialogue that was also "softened", including Asa's line, "You too can find the joy and happiness of Hades!"; AIP modified it to "You too can find the joy and happiness of hating!" I don't know why that is such a big change but what ever.

I loved the special effects and make-up in this film. As old as this movie is they are really good. Beside all of the above mentioned there was also a scene where it shows the a corpse coming back to life as a vampire. You see it through the eye sockets, this nasty ooze bubbling and pulsating inside until he eyes begin to form. It was pretty neat how they did it.

This darkly atmospheric black-and-white horror film put director Mario Bava on the map. He did such a great job with the cinematography and lighting. The atmosphere is so heavy and the imagery is so dense. The film is very rich in texture; it has this pure ghastly beauty that makes it entrancing.

Tim Burton has used imagery from his film in some of his other movie like ‘Sleepy Hollow'. Tim Burton has said regarding Black Sunday:

"One of the movies that remain with me probably stronger than anything is Black Sunday...there's a lot of old films - Bava's in particular - where the vibe and the feeling is what it's about, the feeling's a mixture of eroticism, of sex, of horror and starkness of image - and to me that is more real than what most people would consider realism in films."

Check out the trailer for this film below.

Here is the the first part of the movie to get you started. This is the American Edit so it is pretty tame compared to the original which you can rent or buy.



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