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A Movie A Day: Quint on BLACK SUNDAY (1960)
You have no reason to fear the dead. They sleep very soundly.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Today we catch Mario Bava’s first film, BLACK SUNDAY (aka THE MASK OF SATAN), a benchmark in the horror genre. I loved yesterday’s Bava flick, BLACK SABBATH, wholeheartedly. That one really worked for me as a film fan, as a genre fan and a human being creeped the fuck out. So, I was a very excited geek popping this one in. The opening of BLACK SUNDAY is fucking incredible. It’s a witch’s damnation scene that looks amazing in black and white. The smoke hangs in the air, the blacks deep and menacing as black robed men surround a beautiful Barbara Steele tied to a stake. I thought maybe I understood… this will be an inquisition movie, but wrong. The inquisitors were the good guys and Steele was a witch, caught doing Satan’s bidding with Arturo Dominici. The main Inquisitor passes sentence, saying she is to be burned to ashes after having the Mask of Satan placed upon her (a mask I’m sure Mario’s son, Lamberto, was referencing in one of my favorites, DEMONS). She fires back a curse on him and his family before the black-hooded dude walks up with the mask, a bronze monstrocity with giant spikes.

The escalation here was what won me over. He slowly, slowly, slowly walks up with the mask, we see it from Steele’s POV, we see the Hooded Man holding it up… Then it goes over her face… But that’s not the end. Suddenly the hooded man pops up again with a giant hammer with a damn tree-trunk for the hammer part. He raises it and swings, hitting the mask like the head on a nail, sending it sinking into the post Steele is tied to with a scream an a torrent of blood erupting behind the mask, like a water balloon. Awesome, awesome opening. I think I might catch a little shit for this one, though, because I honestly wasn’t all that taken with the rest of the movie. Maybe I need to give it some time and revisit it, but the dubbing was so awful that I found it hard to get involved with the characters. That fault is hard to lay at Bava’s feet, but what I can take issue with is the writing. You have characters doing some stupid shit, like accidentally breaking the cross protecting the witch from returning during a fight with a giant bat after telling us why that cross was there 3 minutes before. Now that’s not to say a good horror movie can’t have their characters doing stupid shit. Look at HALLOWEEN, for instance. Brilliant movie. Still holds up. Great, great film, but how many goddamned times does Laurie Strode drop her weapon after supposedly killing The Shape? I accept a certain amount of suspension of disbelief in horror and even that didn’t derail the movie for me. I still liked BLACK SUNDAY, but it wasn’t the genre-defining movie I was expecting.

And coming off of BLACK SABBATH didn’t help. The dubbing in SABBATH wasn’t too good either, but at least it was Italian dubbing, with English subtitles so if there was over-acting it was hard for me to discern it, letting me focus on technical filmmaking and craftsmanship on the screen. SABBATH seemed fresh to me and SUNDAY felt like I had to make excuses for it. I had to consider the time-period it was made to overlook some poor script choices and some uninteresting characterwork. That said, the visuals of the movie are impressive. The gothic setting is fantastic, the photography beautiful. Bava did his own cinematography and make-up here, which is all to be applauded. For a first film (even first credited film as Bava did some uncredited work on a couple of pictures before this), it is incredibly well done, just not the life-changing genre cornerstone I was expecting. Steele is very pleasant to watch and seems to be giving it her all in the dual role of the witch Katia Vajda and her innocent descendant Princess Asa. John Richardson and Andrea Checchi play doctors who unwittingly awaken the witch while investigating her burial chamber and get caught up in the family’s struggle with their dark history. Of course Richardson falls in love with Steele after three sentences, but I guess that’s not any more unrealistic than Mark Damon falling for Susie Anderson after knowing her for 20 seconds in the Wurdalak episode of yesterday’s BLACK SABBATH. The main villain of the second half is Arturo Dominici as Igor Javutich, the witch’s lover newly resurrected by the witch as she slowly regains her power after an awful lot of convenient things happen in a row (the cross on her tomb destroyed, the glass broken, her Satan mask removed and one of the doctors cutting himself enough for a few drops of his blood to fall into her corpse mouth). And I shit you not, the resurrected Javutich looks like Danny Trejo. He has some corpse skin, so you have pocked cheeks, the thick mustache, the long hair… I saw Danny Trejo every time that character was onscreen being a huge bastard. Final Thoughts: It’s not a bad movie by any means, it just relies too much on convenience and gets very, very dull after an exciting opening. The atmosphere, set design and cinematography are almost enough to make me ignore that, but I just couldn’t. I appreciate this movie and what it meant for the genre, how it gave horror an edge when it was released, how it pushed the envelope. I respect it a lot more than I enjoyed it I think is what I’m trying to say. There’s definitely reason to seek this out, especially if you’re a genre fan, but Bava’s BLACK SABBATH worked on it’s own terms for me 45 years after it was made and I had to put BLACK SUNDAY into the context of its release to really appreciate it.

The schedule for the next 7 days is: Saturday, September 6th: TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (1972) Sunday, September 7th: TRAGIC CEREMONY (1972) Monday, September 8th: LISA AND THE DEVIL (1976) Tuesday, September 9th: BARON BLOOD (1972) Wednesday, September 10th: A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964) Thursday, September 11th: THE PINK PANTHER (1963) Friday, September 12th: THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1975) Tomorrow is more Bava, this time moving to the ‘70s with body count flick TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE (aka BAY OF BLOOD). See you folks then! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath

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