Thirty years of horror: Black Sunday (1960)

Tom: This one was a triple heartbreaker for me. I quickly realized we weren’t watching that movie about the Goodyear Blimp ramming a football game. The second heartbreak came from my confusion that this was Black Sabbath, a horror anthology with one incredibly effective segment involving a nurse who has to sit up all night with the corpse of an old woman who’s just died. I rewatched that a few years ago and, oh boy, does it hold up! But this is not Black Sabbath. This is Black Sunday. And then my third heartbreak came after I called this up on Netflix and saw that I’d previously given it one star. You ever do that? Go to watch something on Netflix and see that you’ve already rated it and think to yourself, “I’ve seen this already?”

After the jump, I sure have.

Chris: We have our first out and out howler here. I found Black Sunday to be unfocused, facile, and frequently insipid. And yet even with all that said, there are some remarkably stylish set pieces going on here. I suppose that’s a microcosm of director Mario Bava’s career. For every interesting scene, we’re stuck sitting through two instances of awful dialogue or horrid acting. That’s certainly the problem here. The English-speaking leads can’t act, but they’re positively Shakespearean compared to the supporting cast, most of whom seem to have had their lines re-dubbed in English by the crew of the catering truck. The story is muddled and frustratingly inconsistent. Lead actress Barbara Steele described later that no one saw a finished screenplay, just pages with their lines for the day. That explains why the characters in the film wander around in confusion.

Tom: That accurately mirrored my own mental state trying to get a handle on what was going on in this movie. Which was mostly a waste of time.

Chris: There is some terrific cinematography and a few striking sequences. The spurting of blood when the mask is hammered home on Asa is perhaps the most infamous scene.

Tom: I was reminded of a not too awful recent horror movie called The Shrine, which also has some gruesome scenes involving a rather, uh, permanently affixed mask, as well as a decent twist at the end. Why couldn’t we have watched that instead? O, the tyranny of the Hornbostel timeframe! To be fair, I did really enjoy some of the camerawork in Black Sunday. Bava does a great job incorporating the presence of a restless camera stalking the action. There’s even a touch of the “spooky funhouse” vibe with playful sets and carnival style gimmicks that make Dario Argento’s Suspiria still enjoyable. You can see how this sort of thing must have influenced, say, Sam Raimi or the Coen brothers, assuming those guys watched weird dated Italian horror films like Black Sunday. This at least elevated Black Sunday above those turgid Hammer horror movies we just watched.

Chris: I found a scene where the demonic Javuto drives a carriage in mad glee to be unsettling. There’s also a nifty set piece where Kruvajan follows Javuto into the labyrinthine ruins and makes a fatal error involving a lantern.

Tom: How could you possibly remember — and spell! — those names? As people were talking to and about each other in this movie, I was convinced someone had scrambled a bunch of letters together instead of actually translating anything. But Kruvajan and Javuto are two of my favorite coffee blends.

Chris: I can’t even think straight until I’ve started my day with a Javuto mocha latte. We should’ve watched a movie with blimps and hot nurses crashing into corpses or something. That sounds infinitely better than this alleged “classic”. Are there going to be any good movies on this list?

(So what’s this “thirty years of horror” thing?)