Happy Sunday! Today’s 31 Days of Horror is Mario Bava’s first official directorial debut. Bava had unofficially directed several films that he was working on as a cinematographer, 1957’s I Vampiri, 1959’s Caltiki – The Immortal Monster and also in 1959 The Giant of Marathon.
In all three films the original directors had left production half way and Bava had stepped in and completed the films but with no screen credit. His work on those movies lead Galatea Film to offer him the chance to make his own movie. Bava jumped at the chance and used a Russian novel by Nikolai Gogol called The Viy as the basis for his movie.
In 1630 Moldavia a witch called Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) is about to be burned at the stake with her companion, brother or depending on the translation, Igor Javuto (Arturo Dominici). The head of the inquisition is Asa other brother Prince Vajda (or only brother – depending on translation). Asa places a curse on Prince Vajda and his descendants claiming that she will rise again on the blood of his children and grandchildren. The Mask of Satan, a metal mask with spikes inside it is hammered onto Asa’s face. When they go to burn her a storm arrives and puts out the fires and scares the villagers. Instead of burning them Igor is buried in the cemetery and Asa is laid to rest in her family’s tomb.
200 years later Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant, Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) are on their way to a conference when their carriage breaks down in the woods. They go exploring and find the Vajda tombs and Asa’s final resting place. Dr. Kruvajan inadvertently breaks the cross that is atop of Asa’s coffin breaking the glass window that lets people see her face. And then the good doctor removes the mask off of her face. For added resurrection insurance he accidentally bleeds on her face too cutting his hand on a shard of glass. The two doctors leave when the daughter of the current Prince Vadja, Katia appears (also played by Barbara Steele). Young Dr. Andre Gorobec is smitten with Katia and the men go on their merry way.
The witch awakens and summons Igor to rise from his grave. Igor then goes to attack Prince Vadja but is foiled by a cross. He then tricks Dr. Kruvajan back to the witch’s tomb where she makes him undead and her slave. Dr. Kruvajan then goes and kills Prince Vadja. Dr. Gorobec is then forced to find his friend and find out what is happening in this small village.
Black Sunday is fantastic! Originally called La maschera del demonio in Italy it was changed to Black Sunday in North America. In England it was also known as The Mask of Satan. The film had to be censored when it was original screened in the U.S. and in England. But the movie set up Mario Bava as a master of horror where he would go on to direct such classics as Black Sabbath, Kill, Baby… Kill!, Blood and Black Lace, The Whip and the Body, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Planet of the Vampires. My original post is here.