a.k.a. Black Sunday
a.k.a. The Mask of the Devil
If you’re a fan of Bava, then you’ve probably already seen this first film in the Bava boxset (I’ve no idea why I haven’t!!). Anyway, if you are a fan of Italian horror cinema you will love this one. It’s got great atmosphere, great sets, an implausible story, dubious acting and atrocious dubbing.
Very briefly, the film opens with the elaborate execution of a vampire witch (Barbara Steele) and her accomplice by hammering nailed Satan masks onto their faces. Unfortunately, the villagers botch the job of disposing of the bodies correctly (interring the witch in a crypt and burying her partner instead of burning them) and centuries later they rise from the dead to wreak havoc against the descendants of their persecutors, including a dead ringer for the witch – also played by Steele – who she wants to switch bodies with.
Although the story is pretty standard fare, as is often the case with Bava, it is the emphasis on style that makes this film special. Bava takes all the best Gothic elements of Tod Browning’s Dracula and early Hammer and adds his own dream-like quality that becomes the focus of later films such as Lisa and the Devil and Kill, Baby…Kill and creates something quite special. Watching Bava films like this one often reminds me of those times when you fall asleep watching a movie, dream the next bit and then wake up and watch the rest still half dreaming.
For a film made in 1960, The Mask of Satan is pretty brutal. The opening scene where the nailed mask was hammered onto Barbara Steele’s face was gory enough to warrant it being exorcised from British prints of the film for many years. There is also a pretty graphic scene of someone’s head burning in the fireplace. All good stuff for a certain kind of connoisseur
Sadly, the dubbing of this film is pretty bad and there is no option to watch the Italian language version. This is a shame as the voice actors in the English language version really ham it up and I mean Ham, even by Italian exploitation standards. At least, if it where dubbed badly into Italian, I wouldn’t notice it as much because I would be reading the subtitles. Having said that, for some people the bad dubbing is all part of the fun!
Overall, this is a great film for lovers of Italian horror, but more mainstream viewers may well be put off by the voice acting. My girlfriend sat down and watched about ten minutes of it before I chased her for repeating lines and bursting into hysterics. The little introduction to the film by Alan Jones was a welcome addition, giving a bit of background and context for the film.
I can’t wait for Black Sabbath next!!