REVIEW – Black Sunday (1960)

BlackSundayFilmJuice have my review of the Arrow Films re-release of Mario Bava’s wonderful Black Sunday (a.k.a. The Mask of Satan) which is out in shops today and well worth picking up.

Very loosely based upon Nikolai Gogol’s short story “Viy”, Black Sunday is an unabashedly Gothic vampire story about a pair of aristocratic doctors who accidentally re-awaken a long-buried evil. Shot in luxuriant black and white that looks absolutely sensational on Blu-ray, Black Sunday shows how effective Gothic imagery can be when used by a director who knows what he is doing. As I point out in the review, many people have come to associate Gothic horror with campy Hammer Horror films but those films undermined the effectiveness of their own Gothic tropes by shooting on Technicolor film:

Many period horror films such as Hammer’s Curse of Frankenstein attempted to improve upon traditional Hollywood gothic by shooting in colour and making use of the Technicolor reds made famous by Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes. The problem is that while these vibrant reds looked amazing when spilling from someone’s throat, they looked absolutely nothing like the colour of real blood. Combine this cartoonish hyper-realism with the fact that the aggressive lighting required by Technicolor cameras made it almost impossible to shoot a dark film and it is easy to see why the movement into colour collapsed 1930s Hollywood gothic into the camp silliness of Hammer horror.

My point is best illustrated by a scene in which one of the doctors drips blood on the witch’s corpse causing it to knit itself back together. Had Bava shot this scene in colour then the writhing blood would have just looked disgusting. However, because the scene was shot in black and white and blood appears black on black and white film, the writhing flesh looks more like a seething blackness than a bloody rice pudding.