Recently I started talking to one of my bosses at work about movies and found he has quite the taste with the collection to match. It was with great interest that I listened while we traded lists of favorites. When it comes to film there are many branching, forking pathways one can wanderdown and often get lost down; it’s not always easy to have a good grasp of everything, so we keep trying, right? And in the interest of that spirit of investigation and adventure I’ve found a lot of strange, great, not-so-great-but-still-good and, of course, those unfortunate stop-this-right-now-and-set-it-on-fire entries into the ledgers at Bastard Square. Mario Bava’s 1960 directorial debut The Mask of Satan, or as it was perhaps more commonly known Black Sunday, is another great entry into the books of what I liked and didn’t really know was out there.
Somewhere between method acting and, ah, non-method acting(?); between classic Cheney, Karloff and Lugosi ‘horror’, this and the quickening of the horror genre that began in the mid-to-late 1970’s there is an entire cadre of films that exist in a sort of dark, risque (for the time) and decidedly high-concept gray area. It’s perhaps a precursor to splatter cinema and a cousin to exploitation. I don’t know enough about it to tell you when or where exactly it began but if the Grindhouse phenomenon is this ouerve’s Omega point* then Black Sunday may indeed be its genesis.
Certainly Black Sunday is – if not the origin – an early example of just how serious you could take a film at a time when topics such as Satan and torture were regarded more the territory of cautionary tales than thrill-packed entertainment. Bava’s debut lays out the dark, gothic imagery so thick and credibly it’s very easy to brush aside the antiquated acting (by today’s standards at least) and simply gorge your eyes on the spectacle that a tale of Black Witchcraft, Vampires (before they sparkled, sang in bands or paraded around southern towns seeking their next good lay) and the unique benefits/tragedies of selling one’s soul to the devil in return for an honestly creepy take on eternal life creates.
And a spectacle it is. Nail-lined masks hammered onto buxom witches faces while their devilish consorts die by their side in similarly ghastly manners, trapdoors behind the fireplace and vengeful villagers raising torches in the night, screaming for blood, blood, BLOOD!!!
Always makes good, yes?
If you are a horror fan, do yourself a favor and take a trip down memory’s darker lanes – give Black Sunday a whirl.
* Perhaps carried on to this day by some of the art house or direct-to-dvd companies out there such as Glass Eye Pix