If you’re looking for Satan, Victorian-era clothing, and enough atmosphere to cook a thick soup in a black cauldron, then you’ve come to the right place, as Black Sunday has those in spades.
Released in 1960, Mario Bava’s directorial debut exists in the realm of horror cinema filled with the dark, macabre factors of the occult: witches, werewolves, and all their horrifying cousins. Taking place in 19th century Romania, Black Sunday deals with two professors making their way to a conference who accidentally wake up an undead witch, who in turn decides to take revenge on those who killed her centuries ago. The film opens up with the execution of the witch Asa Vadja, complete with shirtless men wearing black cloths over their heads ready to ignite her into oblivion. From then on, the film keeps the atmosphere level to a raging ten. From there we are taken on a chilling Gothic thrill-ride. Instead of riding on cheap, uneventful jump-scares, the film takes its time to creep out the viewer, utilizing some makeup, set design, and other elements to create a macabre cult classic.
The biggest highlight of the film, ironically, is its eerie, moody, and downright creepy atmosphere. The dark, eerie set design—complete with crumbling mausoleums, distorted black trees, and smoke-filled cemeteries—visually envelops the viewer into the creepy, deteriorating world of 19th century Romania. The dark bass clarinet-lead score brings you in and holds you tight, acting like pepperoni on top of a macabre pizza. The choice to shoot in black and white, while probably due to budget restrictions, turns into the Parmesan cheese sprinkled onto this pizza. It all works together with extreme fluidity and precision.
The plot of the film holds strong. At a run-time of a little under and hour and a half it doesn’t have the problem of being too long, meaning only the bare necessities remain. The amount I felt could’ve been cut out remains small, only numbering around five minutes at the most, and that’s with me nit-picking. I never felt bored watching this film.
The weakest aspect of the film has to be its dialogue. Although I have to take into account this film was made over fifty years ago, a good portion of the dialogue has not aged well. Additionally, like many Italian films of that era, the dialogue dubbing isn’t the best, the words often following the lips by a second or two. At times, the dialogue gets so cheesy that it takes the viewer out of the experience.
All in all, Black Sunday proves to be a fun, atmospheric B-movie romp that deserves a night viewing with a bowl of popcorn and the lights turned off.