Thursday, November 01, 2012

Black Sunday a.k.a La Maschera del Demonio (1960) dir Mario Bava

Mario Bava is one of those directors whose name I've seen time and time again and whose films I'm seen referenced almost as often.  Until recently I never really thought about sitting down and watching one of them.  I can't remember where but I saw a clip from Black Sunday and figured it was about time to give it a view.  Of course it wasn't on netflix streaming and I can't rent anything from the video store because it's too far to bike to (and probably wouldn't have any Bava movies anyway plus I owe them a shit ton in overdue fees).  However, just in time for Halloween, netflix added the movie so I sat down yesterday and gave it a watch.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, probably some early example of giallo.  Well, it is but not to the extreme of Fulci and Argento but I can see where they might have drawn inspiration from Bava.  Black Sunday is a tough movie to review because there are many elements which I appreciated but over all the movie wasn't terribly good and the English dubbing was pretty friggin' bad (not Ed Wood bad) almost to the point of making the movie impossible to take seriously.  If it had been in Italian and subtitled I might have enjoyed it more.

Black Sunday is one of those old horror movies that isn't "good" (though it's considered by some to be a masterpiece) but if you're looking at it as a progenitor of later Italian horror it's kind of cool.  Technically Bava (a cinematographer on his directorial debut) has a good eye.  Many of his shots are fascinatingly composed and he does several slow pans that I rewound to get a better look and a few that I wished I was much better versed in film making so I could figure out how he got certain results.

The effects were unexpectedly grotesque and though in one section it's obviously a prop (the flesh melts off a head) the result was suitably grisly.  This is one of those movies where, though the visual effects and make-up are laughably crude by today's standards they do the trick at getting into your head and all of a sudden what you're seeing in your head is far more horrific than what you're seeing on screen (e.g. the scene in Night of the Living Dead when the zombies are tearing apart the young couple who have burned to death).

Barbara Steel cuts an impressive figure on screen.  An English actress, she was over-dubbed for the film's international release.  She's got a great look, oddly innocent at one moment and frighteningly erotic (like she's gonna pull your skin off and make it look like sexy fun) in others.  Again, not what I was expecting and I'm interested in seeing how she is in other films.

I'm on the fence about how Black Sunday is a masterpiece.  I'm sure if I saw it in a film class or read some brilliant film critiques of it I could appreciate it more.  Apparently it was a huge hit and Bava went on to direct thirty-seven movies.  Steel has been in fifty movies after Black Sunday - including the thriller The Butterfly Room (2012).

I'd be interested to see a remastered version in Italian to really get the full effect.  Worth watching but only if you're a horror buff who can appreciate older films (and their impact on later, more well known directors).  Casual modern horror fans (sweeping generalization) will be unable to get past the dated aspects and end up missing the horror elements.   

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