Saturday, September 24, 2016

Season of Horror: Black Sunday (1960)

Saturday night has always held a special place in my heart for horror because of the nostalgia I have for Bob Wilkins and Creature Features. Tonight I am honoring the many scary Saturday nights of my youth by watching Mario Bava's Black Sunday.

Horror movies with witches have always been the most frightening to me. There just aren't enough really good witch movies, but this is one of the best. It is visually striking, with beautiful use of light and shadow, and uses music and sound effectively to set the mood. I love it more each time I watch it.

"You will be dead to man, 

but you will be alive in death."

The dubbing on this film is terrible and lip movements don't quite match. The effect is disconcerting and adds to the creepiness of the movie, but mostly it's distracting and I wish they'd done a better job.

Here we are in the good old 17th century where prime time entertainment is not reality shows but seeing bloodsuckers and satanists being tortured and put to death. We've got the vampire, Igor Javutich, who's already had a mask nailed to his head, and his witch consort Asa Vajda, who is in the process of getting her just dues, as directed by her own brother. We're told she did many evil deeds to serve her partner in crime, but aren't provided with details. Before getting a spiky mask nailed to her head and being burned at the stake, she's got to suffer the additional pain and indignation of being branded with 'S' for Satan.

These folks really want to draw out the fun because after branding her back, they've got to untie her and turn her over for the delightful application of the mask. She is kinda pissy about the mistreatment but gets a chance to curse her brother and his descendants, promising to use the blood of his offspring to live again, achieving immortality in order to torment and destroy.

We get a disturbing vantage point of the mask coming toward us, as though we were the ones suffering the punishment, that makes it especially horrifying when we see the executioner apply it with a huge mallet to the head, causing blood to spray out the top and nostrils, and leak out the eyes like tears. Blech! The first time I saw it I had to work out how they could have achieved that effect, because the reality of it was quite disturbing. What a way to start a movie!

Luckily for the condemned, they never get burned because Satan makes it rain and puts out the fires, scaring the mob off. Javutich is buried in unconsecrated ground and Asa gets the privilege of being entombed in the family crypt. What were they thinking? If you're going to be cursed by a witch you've just put to death, you should probably remove any possibility that said witch and her favorite vampire could return.

We are told that two centuries have passed and we see Dr. Andre Gorobec and his mentor Dr. Kruvajan on their way to a medical conference in a coach. Since they're in a hurry, they tell the coachman to take the scary shortcut into the forest that will take them past the witch's tomb, despite the coachman's warning that the road is full of holes. As they are traveling near the crypt, they lose a wheel and have to stop for repairs. Guess they should have listened to him.

An eerie wailing sound inspires the doctors to go investigate the chapel and they find that it's caused by wind through the pipes of a ruined organ. A slamming door catches their attention and draws them into the crypt. These guys are just asking for trouble. The place is full of cobwebs and dead people, and the suspenseful music suggests that bad things are going to happen.

Curiosity seekers that they are, they stop off at the witch's tomb to check her out. Kruvajan tells Andre that there is a window in the tomb so the cross on top would be visible to the witch and keep her nailed down forever.

This is an important bit of information that Kruvajan disregards when a huge bat attacks him and he knocks down the cross while defending himself.

Although Andre encourages him to leave, foolish Kruvajan can't resist the temptation to reach into the tomb and pry the mask off the witch. The squishy sound effects really add to the gruesomeness of the task. Andre notices that Kruvajan's cut himself, and as they leave we see drops of blood drip from a shard of glass into the witch's eye as thunder rolls and lightning strikes.

As they exit the chapel, the music becomes markedly romantic and we get our first glimpse of Asa's ancestor, Katia, who looks exactly like her. She tells them her father, Prince Vajda, is letting the chapel go to ruin because he believes it is cursed. Andre gets dreamy eyed and tells her won't tell her goodbye in hopes they'll meet again, as the romantic music swells. We can be sure they'll meet again.

to be updated...

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