Every year I start off the season with some key films to set the mood. Its just the thing to do. I love witches, vampires, and spooky settings and one film makes the most of these things, that film is Mario Bava's Black Sunday.
Black Sunday opens with one of the most atmospheric and intense scenes in movie history. A woman is tied to a stake and being tortured for not only being a Witch, but a Vampire Witch! Pretty evil. Now when people are burned at the stake in movies, they usually plead for their lives. Not this woman, she curses her killers in the name of Satan. Who is this ballsy woman? Asa, played by The English Queen of Italian Horror; Barbara Steele. Both her and her lover are condemned to death but vow revenge. Over two hundred years later, two traveling doctors break down near her tomb, and after sticking their nose where it doesn't belong, manage to resurrect the evil woman to rake havoc. Not knowing what they have done, they walk out un-phased, only to run into the owner. A beautiful woman named Katia who is the spitting image of Asa. It turns out that she is the descendant of Asa and the tomb is on her property. A romance ensues while, unknown to them, evil is on the rise. Asa's plan? To take over the body of her look alike descendant and destroy humanity.
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This film is absolutely gorgeous. Filmed in stunning black and white and featuring mood setting camera angles that have never really been replicated, Black Sunday is a masterpiece unrivaled by his contemporaries in the genre (unless we are including Alfred Hitchcock). Some have wondered why he did not use color as he did just a couple of years later on Black Sabbath. The only thing that can ce said is that Bava's films don't need color. They are works of art with so much depth that color is irrelevant.
Each performance is a finely tuned component. Nothing hammy or overacted, and that alone shows the control of the vion never strays.
If you haven't ever seen this film despite hearing about it for years (I'm sure you have), see it. Rent it, buy it, own it in your collection. Bava is to be marveled at and Steele is to be worshiped. This film is a little bit of everything that we love as horror fans and it will not disappoint. OK I'm done. Go watch it.