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!
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
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Sept. 6, 2008, 1:41 a.m. CST
Why watch A Shot in the Dark before watching the original Pink Panther? Also, I still love this column. I hope you all are discussing ways you can use this in the future - a book, maybe?
Sept. 6, 2008, 2 a.m. CST
Otherwise you will be setting yourself up for a big disappointment. The Pink Panther is not really about the Clouseau character.
Sept. 6, 2008, 2:06 a.m. CST
I know, but Elke Sommer bridges me into the Pink Panther series, so I have to hit A Shot In The Dark first. Should make for an interesting viewing experience.
Sept. 6, 2008, 2:13 a.m. CST
Looking forward to it. I have the DVD sitting on my shelf for months. Still unpacked.
Sept. 6, 2008, 2:37 a.m. CST
I was watching this earlier today via netflix. I thought Quint was going to be amazed and I would have to make excuses for myself, but i think Quint nailed it on this one. However, I think Quint forgot to mention how the third act really puts the film back to pace.
Sept. 6, 2008, 2:40 a.m. CST
how about some light, fun movies? or ending on the noir films?
Sept. 6, 2008, 7:50 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
Quint, we love you column, don't stop. But, when you first started the genres were all over the board. We've been stuck in noir a while. I think we need a little variety although I do see the comedies coming.
Sept. 6, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST
It's a great and highly influental movie anyway.
Sept. 6, 2008, 8:18 a.m. CST
It's one of my favorite pre-slasher slashers. FT13 1 & 2 borrow heavily from this movie (the deaths). It also has the best movie title of all time.
Sept. 6, 2008, 8:18 a.m. CST
It's called "The hour when Dracula comes" and they keep mentioning Dracula all the time. Even when originally nobody talks! Sometimes when a character (or at least his mouth) is off screen, he suddenly says: "Blabla Dracula! Blabla!"<br> And the German DVD also contains a silly but charming comic book. Damn Anolis, I wish you would continue to release Bava DVDs, but unfortunately they didn't sell well :'(
Sept. 6, 2008, 8:19 a.m. CST
...She's looking forward to the Lisa and the Devil review. It's one of her favorites, she even has it on her zune.
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:40 a.m. CST
Am I the only person who expected the OTHER Black Sunday? Dang.
Sept. 6, 2008, 10:01 a.m. CST
Quint, I don't know whether you've already seen it or not, but if not, you'd really make us all happy by getting the 1970's Black Sunday with Bruce Dern as the Crazy Terrorist and the Goodyear Blimp as the suicide vehicle... We'd love to see your reaction to that film.
Sept. 6, 2008, 10:30 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
because now people see the name Thomas Harris, and they think all he's ever done is everything Hannibal.
Sept. 6, 2008, 10:38 a.m. CST
by The Reluctant Austinite
I'm probably going to get burned at the stake for saying any of this, but I feel someone has to. As a lifelong film fan, something I assumed Quint MUST be, I'm frankly shocked he hasn't seen any of these movies before now. None of the major, gothic Bava films? No Val Lewton films? I know it's impossible to have seen everything, and we all tend to gravitate to our favorite genres, but when I read a review like the one of "Black Sunday," as sort a "meh"---it's hard for me to fathom. And then he gets talkback support? Maybe I'm the oldest guy here, and everybody else here "grew up" on Michael Bay or something, but I hope everyone has some idea that this isn't the general consensus of "Black Sunday," Bava's gothic masterpiece. "Black Sabbath" is also very, very good, and the Karloff vampire sequence gives us an idea of what "Black Sunday" might have looked like in color, but I'm SHOCKED that "Black Sunday" wasn't viewed by Quint with a greater impact. As I read these daily reviews, and Quint lavishes praise on the four films in the "Hammer Icons of Adventure" set (which are indeed pretty cool, but none of which is anyway close to Hammer's best early horror films or their later, more desperate and delirious output), but then gives "meh" or mixed reviews to some of the Lewton films or "Black Sunday," I'm completely taken back. Maybe he's just trying to watch too much stuff too quickly, and in a weird order to boot, and he's getting loopy. Damn it, I've been reading Quint's stuff for almost 10 years and I've never read anything like this crazy talk! To blame bad dubbing for not appreciating Bava's amazing cinematography and atmosphere is like saying all Godzilla films are crap because I saw them dubbed and the dubbing sucked. Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas wasn't inspired to write a Bava book that took 10 years and weighs a ton because "Black Sunday" was "okay, but just didn't do much for me." I'm sorry Quint. I love ya brother, and I'm not a 15 year old that just wants to get a flame war in talbacks(I REALLY don't!), but I think you might have not have been in the right mood when you watched this last night. Wait until a night with a thunderstorm outside, open the windows, pop some popcorn and try this one again in a different frame of mind.
Sept. 6, 2008, 10:46 a.m. CST
by The Reluctant Austinite
if you guys want to see another atmosphere drenched gothic ghost story from Bava. And I'm still shocked. Even a little pissed about the "uninteresting camera work" and "very, very dull" quotes. Somebody get ahold of Tim Burton, have him read that review, and come on here to defend me!
Sept. 6, 2008, 11:19 a.m. CST
A Shot in the Dark was written and filmed before the Pink Panther, but shelved by the studio and released after. Maybe that's why Quint chose this order.
Sept. 6, 2008, 11:35 a.m. CST
You said it all sir, I totally agree Quint may be losing his frame of appreciation. Especially now that he's entered Bava territory. I had no access to my computer the week before and tried desperately to talkback my opinion that in spite of his actor connection rule that he should not preceed Sunday w/ Sabbath. But everything you said is right on. Trust us Quint, this IS a genre defining masterpiece, please re-visit this on a cold windy and/or rainy night later this fall. I don't mean to sound disrespectful because I love this column, but any negativity based on this so-so review is well warranted. And please don't hold a grudge against this movie based on an initial viewing, just give it another chance pleeeeease!
Sept. 6, 2008, 11:40 a.m. CST
my brother and roommate are constantly yelling something from its ending scene. It sounds like they're yelling "GOLME." They tell me the sound editing is so horrible, when the man is trying to say "got em" it comes out sounding like a mess. Is this true?
Sept. 6, 2008, 11:47 a.m. CST
And then A Shot in The Dark?<p> I love Sellers in the Panther flicks. So funny. I think there is one Seller's Pink Panther movie currently not available on DVD.
Sept. 6, 2008, 11:49 a.m. CST
I think it's a mistake though.
Sept. 6, 2008, 11:56 a.m. CST
Put "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square (1979)" after the first Elke Sommer flick--it has Elke Sommer and David Niven in it. Then you can watch the Pink Panther films in their correct order, you anal lad you.
Sept. 6, 2008, 3:37 p.m. CST
I'm always open to other people's thoughts, so no worries on that front. I never said anything about the dubbing effecting the camerawork, I said the movie gets dull and I didn't like the character work. I spend paragraphs praising the cinematography and set design, but that's not all there is to a movie. Am I wrong about Black Sunday? I'm not wrong to me. That's how the movie played. Will it play better for me later? It very well could. I'll probably watch it again later, but I found it to drag quite a bit. I'm coming at this with fresh eyes and the above was my honest reaction. I feel a little like I did when I saw GONE WITH THE WIND and didn't like it. It's a movie I should have loved, that everybody loves, but I didn't. I like Black Sunday a lot more than I like GONE WITH THE WIND... GWTW doesn't have that awesome opening. heh. I just found the movie drags... a lot. And the writing was very convenient. Bava's filmmaking makes up for a lot of that, though, so I end up with a mixed opinion on it.<BR><BR>As far as the 70s Black Sunday, I have indeed seen it and it is awesome. Robert Shaw FTW!<BR><BR>Fiester, I'm hearing a lot of that, but it's the way the films are scheduled. If I had A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, then I would have certainly done it that way, but I don't, so I didn't. Looking forward to hitting them.<BR><BR>And we're getting out of horror (not quite sure where the noir stuff is coming from... I guess the atmospheric black and white horror is what you guys mean) after a few more movies. Hitting a week of Pink Panther movies and then spending 2 1/2 weeks on various dramas, westerns, war flicks and comedies before hitting the month of potpourri-style horror for October. I've gathered almost 40 horror titles together so far and will pick from those for the month of October.
Sept. 6, 2008, 4:40 p.m. CST
Quint, you should make no apologies for watching horror movies. This is your column, and you should be able to take it in whatever direction you want to. Besides people we're coming up on scary movie season. If you wan't to watch The Cowboys or Barry Lyndon on October 30th, go for it. They're good movies. But don't act like your'e too good for vampires and werewolves. Trust me, it's good fun and no matter what you think, it's not gonna take you down a notch.
Sept. 6, 2008, 5:50 p.m. CST
by The Reluctant Austinite
I understand what you're saying. A friend of mine's wife watched "The Godfather" about a year ago and she thought it sucked. Now, she spent years watching "The Sopranos" and every other mob related film, and when she finally went back to the source, her opinion was, "I don't see what the big deal is." I think this is what you experienced with "Gone With the Wind." Others find the same thing with "Casablanca." I just can't believe you hadn't seen many of these films years ago on TV or from a good video store. I was always floored when people would come into the video store where I used to work telling me they just watched "Jason and the Argonaughts" or "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" and that they sucked. They treated them like MST3000 fodder and made fun of "how bad" the effects were. Well, these are kids who saw "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "300" before they saw the classics. That's their frame of reference, and I kind of feel sorry for them because they might never appreciate the history of good cinema because they've been too spoiled to go back.
Sept. 6, 2008, 6 p.m. CST
Yeah, I can definitely see how Black Sunday changed the genre and gave way to the Herschel Gordon Lewises and Argentos. I wouldn't go so far as comparing this movie with The Godfather or Casablanca, both films floored me when I saw them, but I see what you're saying. I have a similar argument with some... different films. It's all focused on the Police Academy movies. People forget how great the first movie is because of the endless diminishing value sequels.
Sept. 6, 2008, 6:31 p.m. CST
"Breathless". I could appreciate the extraordinary influence it had on American cinema, but I felt like I had seen the movie a dozen different times. <P> Having said that, jump cuts rule!
Sept. 6, 2008, 6:51 p.m. CST
by The Reluctant Austinite
His performance in short shorts and rollerblades in "Can't Stop the Music" is nothing short of genius. "Police Academy," however, is certainly his crowning achievement.
Sept. 6, 2008, 7:31 p.m. CST
....watching those Panther movies. Sellers was a comedy genius. His physical humor alone is up there with the greats like Chaplin and Keaton. I envy you Quint because you're seeing these films for the first time. It will be like seeing any of Brooks' classic comedies, Airplane, Animal House or Caddyshack for the first time.
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:21 p.m. CST
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:21 p.m. CST
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:22 p.m. CST
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:23 p.m. CST
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:23 p.m. CST
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:24 p.m. CST
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:24 p.m. CST
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:26 p.m. CST
There should be a paragraph break </p> here.
Sept. 6, 2008, 9:28 p.m. CST
Sept. 6, 2008, 10:38 p.m. CST
In order to do a paragraph break you must press < p > without the spaces
Sept. 7, 2008, 4:03 a.m. CST
didnt you have 77 on it before?
Sept. 7, 2008, 9:52 p.m. CST
by Nosferatu Jones
Weren't some of us going back-and-forth about DEAD OF NIGHT? What happened?
Sept. 7, 2008, 9:54 p.m. CST
by Nosferatu Jones
Confusing the BLACK SUNDAY/SABBATH reviews...
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