Black Sunday (1960)

It’s been a long number of years since I last saw this, and it was a pleasant revisit tonight. Mario Bava’s official directorial debut, back in the day it was considered something of a ne plus ultra of screen violence much like Django was, although at least the UK only banned it for eight years… Made a star out of Barbara Steele, too, pulled her fledgling career out of the toilet and then stereotyped her forever after; on watching it again tonight, I must admit I was struck by how comparatively little she actually does, though. As the witch, Asa, well, she’s only really active before the credits and in the last reel, and as Katja, she doesn’t really do much either… maybe it really was her striking appearance that got her places? Or maybe it was the way she was filmed? Cos the performances aren’t really the point in this film, the point is its stunning atmosphere and visuals; clearly Bava believed that whatever he’d learned in his previous career as a cinematographer, he’d better utilise that knowledge fully here. The end result is one of the most visually amazing films of any kind I’ve ever seen; if there were such a thing as “gothic cinema” in the same way there’s gothic literature, this film would have to be considered the defining example of it. The style really does overcome everything here, including the somewhat pulpy nature of the plot (the film’s claim to be an adaptation of a story by Gogol is basically spurious), encompassing the traditional angry mob bearing flaming torches; indeed it nearly overcomes the ratty English dub and Roberto Nicolosi’s occasionally overdone score. I’m assured the further re-dub American International did is even worse, but it would’ve been nice if Kino could’ve included the Italian-language track with subtitles as well; it’s the one thing that makes their new release a disappointment. Fantastic film, anyway.

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One thought on “Black Sunday (1960)

  1. SJHoneywell January 21, 2013 at 5:27 am

    This film has one of my favorite ever introductions. I love the whole witch trial at the start, particularly her reaction to it, and then the fitting of the mask. How awesome is that five minutes?

    I’m with you on the language. I know that there are people out there who (for some reason) prefer dubbed films. I can’t for the life of me understand why offering the option to the viewer would ever be a bad thing, though. The problem is that often, we’re limited to the one version of the film that is available–the subtitles or dubbing doesn’t matter because what’s our other option? It’s one of the reasons I love Criterion films–they do a great job on all of this stuff.

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