Black Sunday (1960)

Not Rated   |    |  Horror

Black Sunday (1960) Poster

A vengeful witch and her fiendish servant return from the grave and begin a bloody campaign to possess the body of the witch's beautiful look-alike descendant, with only the girl's brother and a handsome doctor standing in her way.

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  • John Richardson and Barbara Steele in Black Sunday (1960)
  • Arturo Dominici in Black Sunday (1960)
  • Mario Bava and Barbara Steele in Black Sunday (1960)
  • Black Sunday (1960)
  • John Richardson and Barbara Steele in Black Sunday (1960)
  • Barbara Steele in Black Sunday (1960)

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28 July 2010 | mhesselius
| Succeeds because of Bava's B&W artistry
A ruined abbey; Gothic interiors of a medieval crypt and castle; a matte painting of the moon illuminating the castle's exterior; a deep pit, the stonework glistening with moisture; claw-like branches against the white mist, all beautifully photographed for shadowy effect by master cinematographer Mario Bava, make this film worth watching. The thin plot involves two incestuous siblings, Asa and Javutich Vajda, executed for witchcraft in the Balkan kingdom of Moldavia, who return from the grave on Walpurgis night two centuries later to reek supernatural vengeance on their descendants.

Unfortunately the B&W beauty of this movie is compromised somewhat by Bava's awkward direction of actors whose performances range from adequate (Andrea Checci as Dr. Kruvaijan, and Ivo Garrani as Prince Vajda) to inept (Barbara Steele as both Princess Katia Vajda and Asa Vajda), to awful (John Richardson as Dr. Gorobec). The writing is likewise sub-par, and seems to borrow elements from the vintage American films "Mark of the Vampire" and "The Black Room," which Bava may have seen.

Plot holes are numerous and obvious. For instance, after draining the life from Katia's father, how does the vampire form of Dr. Kruvaijan find a ready-made coffin, and how does he bury himself? How does Katia's brother Constantine survive a fall down a deep pit to come back and destroy Javutich? The schmaltzy piano love theme is distracting, beginning immediately after Katia's first meeting with Gorobec. Nevertheless, camera poetry abounds. The slow-motion vision of the phantom coach driven by Javutich is a stunner. All of the genuinely unsettling moments are the result of Bava's uncanny use of lighting, shadow, and perspective; not the poor use of artificial-looking wax figures and lens filters to create the effects of aging on Katia's and Asa's face.

Austensibly based upon Nikolai Gogol's short story "Viy," there is only one scene in the film that is recognizable from the source material. The scene in the crypt when Krubaian is alone with, and trying to escape from the reanimated Asa, parallels the attempts of Gogol's protagonist to escape from a witch who has arisen from her coffin. Barbara Steele's makeup, the spike holes left in Asa's face by the mask of Satan, is very effective here.

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Did You Know?


In its day, this was considered to be unnecessarily gruesome and indeed was banned in the UK until 1968. Even then, it was heavily cut. The full uncut version wasn't released in Britain until 1992.


Princess Asa Vajda: You will never escape my vengeance, or of Satan's! My revenge will seek you out, and with the blood of your sons, and of their sons, and their sons, I will continue to live forever! They will restore me to life you now rob from me!


In the opening credits, Barbara Steele's name is misspelled as Barbara Steel.

Crazy Credits

For "The Mask of Satan," the English language version prepared in Italy, Barbara Steele's name is listed as "Barbara Steel" on the trailer and on the credits of the film itself.

Alternate Versions

This film has been shown in the United States in four (five counting the TV version) different versions.

  • BLACK SUNDAY (84 minutes)distributed by American International Pictures. This U.S. version features a more dramatic dubbing job recorded in the U.S. and a new score by Les Baxter to replace the original score. Further edits to this version were used to create the 16mm U.S. television syndication version.
  • REVENGE OF THE VAMPIRE The long delayed British version is a different cut that features the original English language dubbing recorded in Italy and the original Italian score by Roberto Nicolosi.
  • THE MASK OF SATAN (87 minutes) The complete version of the film featuring the original English language dubbing recorded in Italy and the original Italian score by Roberto Nicolosi. This is usually referred to as the "European Version."
  • LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO (85 minutes) Not the original Italian version as you might expect from the title. The main title is video generated (in bright red) and superimposed over the black and white film. The film uses the original English language dubbing recored in Italy. The score is a mixture of both the original Italian (Roberto Nicolosi) and U. S. (Les Baxter) scores.

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