“Black Sunday” (1960) – When an executioner lifts his sledgehammer and smashes a mask with about 20 pointed nails into your face – while you are also tied to a stake and then branded with the letter “S”, the mark of Satan – you gotta know that it is not your day.
This is Princess Asa’s (Barbara Steele) horrible day, but what makes matters worse is her own brother sentenced her to this ghastly fate. Set in the 17th century, this unseemly opening sets a sinister tone for “Black Sunday”, which incidentally, has zero relation to 1977’s “Black Sunday” about a terrorist attack attempt at the Super Bowl.
The legendary “Super” Mario Bava (“Blood and Black Lace” (1964), “Kill, Baby…Kill!” (1966)) throws everything but the kitchen sink into his 87-minute film, including creaking doors, cobweb-filled tombs, dead bodies, a castle complete with standing knights in armor, secret passageways, and a constant whistling wind.
Two hundred years after Asa’s vile experience, unsuspecting Professor Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) blow into town, accidentally meddle in spaces that they shouldn’t and echoes from the past come roaring into the present.
The acting may be a little wooden at times, and the scares sometimes feel transparently staged, but Bava’s monstrous creation thrives with disturbing imagery and dark set pieces that pierce your brain – like a mask with about 20 nails – and take up permanent residence.
Imaged credits: Unidis; Trailer credits: ennemme (YouTube)