Black Sunday (1960)

Article #1669 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-9-2005
Posting Date: 3-8-2006
Directed by Mario Bava
Featuring Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi

Two hundred years after her executions, a witch / vampiress is accidentally revived by two travellers and proceeds to wreak vengeance on the offspring of the man who had her executed.

This movie is generally regarded as Mario Bava’s masterpiece, though I do know that there are those who are less impressed with it. It’s beautifully shot, and there are some genuinely harrowing scenes in the movie; the effectively staged destruction of the cross, the explosion of the coffin, and the truly gruesome method of putting the soul of the doctor to rest all come to mind. Yet, taken as a whole, I don’t quite enjoy this one as much as I would something I would call a masterpiece; to me, it falls just a little short. Yet I find it difficult to point to exactly where my problems are with the movie. I think the story itself may be one of the problems; parts of it seem vague, and other parts seem over-familiar. The vagueness comes into play with the fact that I’m never quite sure what kind of supernatural creatures I’m dealing with; they’re called vampires at the outset, but the opening execution looks more like one for witches than vampires. They’re also described as ghosts at one point, and exactly what their powers are remains something of a mystery; there are times I think the movie is making it up as it goes along. The overfamiliarity of some of the plot elements may not be the movie’s fault; most of those elements appear in movies that postdate this one. But I also have a little problem with the characters; they seem a little too two-dimensional to really engage my attention. Granted, the dubbing may be at fault here, since it’s a rare circumstance when the actors doing the dubbing are of the same level as the actors being dubbed. Nevertheless, the movie just misses really engaging my attention fully, and it’s one I more appreciate for individual moments than as a complete whole.

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