Black Sunday Screen 9 articles

Black Sunday


Black Sunday Poster
  • Time: Richard Corliss
    March 10, 1961? | Via Rotten Tomatoes

    It may well make a bundle, thanks to the technical skill with which it manages its long-delayed payoff. But it is getting tiresome to be forced to admire, for want of anything else to do, the skill with which moviemakers jerk audiences around.

  • Supposedly based on a story by Gogol, this 1960 Italian horror flick is plagued by awkward continuity and somnambulistic acting. Its only saving grace—and the source of its cult status—is the camerawork of director Mario Bava, which conjures up a frightful, doomed atmosphere reminiscent of Murnau and Jacques Tourneur.

  • Loosely based on Nikolai Gogol's short story Viy, the film is an eminently gothic confabulation of hereditary curses and revenge from beyond the grave; in many ways, it's also a stylish throwback to the heyday of Universal horror, with high-contrast cinematography and elaborately atmospheric set design.

  • Some horror critics feel La Maschera del Demonio is Bava’s best film. It certainly exemplified a richness of style nigh untouched at the time by other genre filmmakers, pulsing with inventive cinema and making an immediate impact.

  • The film boasts several memorable sequences which display a distinctive style and approach to the horror film. Bava pushed atmosphere, mood, dark themes and sometimes gore ahead of story and characterization in most of his films. Italian genre directors following Bava such as Dario Argento (Deep Red [1975], Suspiria [1977]) and Lucio Fulcio (Don’t Torture a Duckling [1972], The Beyond [1981]) would do likewise.

  • Bava remains best known for his first film, Black Sunday. The prologue, in particular, seems engraved in the minds of those who have seen it.

  • It shows his wide cinematic knowledge, visually quoting everything from White Zombie to David Lean’s Oliver Twist and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He also layers the film with visual motifs and rhymes, deploying eyes, windows, reflections, and long, tense right-to-left pans, which sometimes come full circle to their point of origin, Bava’s crew presumably crouching on the floor to stay out of shot, or else trotting around the camera ahead of the advancing lens.

  • Mario Bava in his directorial debut is an alchemic picturalist serving up Murnau compositions in clammy sound stages. His camera is a palpable, malefic presence, knocking over furniture as it sweeps across rooms and climactically cross-cutting between a burning and a resuscitation in a double Dreyer citation. The only thing the cinematography can’t engulf is Steele herself, who, with her regal perversity and ghoulish eroticism, commands her own space as a newly minted horror icon.

  • Bava’s photographer’s eye for composition (he cut his teeth working with Rossellini, Pabst, Tourneur, and Raoul Walsh) means that not a frame is devoid of detail or interest: like Welles (who used to paint his own props and decorative fittings) Bava was meticulous with production design, cramming tracking shots through corridors of Katya’s castle with ornaments and baubles. Even in black and white, Bava seemed to know how to paint all the colors of darkness.

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