The Horror Honeys: Witches & Satanists & Vampires... Wait... What?

Witches & Satanists & Vampires... Wait... What?

A Supernatural Honey & Revenge Honey Tandem Review of Black Sunday

The Supernatural Honey's Perspective

In the 17th Century, Russian Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) and her lover are condemned for practicing witchcraft and worshipping the Devil. After her brother renounces her and sentences her to death, she vows to return to seek revenge on her family. She is killed by having the Mask of Satan embedded into her pretty noggin and interred under a cross to prevent her from rising again. Cut to two centuries later, a couple of doctors have some carriage trouble and find themselves in the witch’s crypt. One of the men decides he needs to get a better look at her and, while being attacked by a bat, destroys the cross paving the way for Asa’s return. Once she regenerates, she brings back her dead boyfriend and she gets to work trying to destroy her innocent descendant, Katia (also Steele), and assume her identity.

The great: The visuals. I never went to film school and I don’t know much about cinematography and lighting, but the Italians seem to. While I love a black and white film, if it’s not done properly, it can look seriously flat. Not so here. It’s like looking at a beautiful moving Gothic painting. The makeup is pretty great too. After the mask is removed from Asa and she begins her regeneration, her face is riddled with holes from the points inside the mask. Even in extreme close up, they look realistic and pretty gruesome. The other visual that stands out is Steele herself. Yes, I’m putting her in the visual category because, let’s face it, her acting isn’t exactly top-notch. She has such an intriguing face that you cannot help but be mesmerized by.

And in the name of the Horror Honeys,
we can't say we blame you.

The not so great: The story and acting. I have a small issue with the details of the story. I’m reviewing this from a supernatural angle and, while Asa is referred to as a witch, she’s actually a vampire, as is her lover, Javutich. They are regenerated by biting necks and drinking blood. While vampires ARE supernatural, they are not the same thing as witches. Now, I watched the edited American version of Black Sunday. My understanding is that the uncut Italian version of the film is far superior and much more cohesive. I must track that down. I’m not sure if the sub-par acting can be blamed on the actors or the material. It must be difficult, when some of them only speak English and others only Italian, to develop any kind of chemistry.

Don't pretend that's not some scary shit.
The downright awful: I think we can all agree that the worst thing about watching any foreign film is watching a dubbed version. The problem I have is when you have an English speaking actor, who is obviously speaking English, but dubbed over with different dialogue. It’s incredibly distracting and then I find myself staring at their mouths, like those people who try to mouth what you’re saying while you’re saying it. You know what I’m talking about? 
Italian horror is always very hit or miss with me, no matter the director. Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t find them all to be geniuses nor is every film a masterpiece. I follow the box of chocolates theory. You know, you never know what you’re going to get? Mario Bava is no exception. 

Luckily, in the Italian Whitman’s Sampler, Black Sunday is nougat center and not a soft maple (I hate maple). It is not, however, a vanilla caramel.

I think you have something... on your... face.
The Revenge Honey's Perspective

I'm just going to start off by saying this: any movie that opens with a witch getting revenge on the puritanical bitches who killed her for being a supernatural badass is just fiiiiiine by me. That being said, UGH! I forgot how confusing Black Sunday was in terms clarifying just what the hell our main characters were supposed to be! Seeing as the illustrious Supernatural Honey has already covered plot, I'm just going to skip all that and say that I agree with her wholeheartedly. I am not in the "ALL ITALIAN HORROR DIRECTORS ARE GENIUSES" cult. However, I do think Bava wins. If this were a contest. Which it always is, right?

They met on e-harmony. 
Mario Bava's films have the distinct trait out of alllll (see how I'm emphasizing that? It means I'm making a point) the Italian horror directors of being gorgeously shot, mostly coherent, and featuring terrifying stories that absolutely hold up even almost 50 years later. Some of my favorites, Kill Baby, Kill, Bay of Blood, and Hatchet for the Honeymoon, are STILL creepy as shit. I hadn't actually seen Black Sunday since I was a teenager, and like SH, I now want to track down a copy of the original Italian film, because well, yeah. Dubbing sucks donkey butt.

Minus the issues with the bad English/Italian/Back to English dubbing, Black Sunday is a brilliantly creepy and atmospheric horror film with some of the most unsettling death scenes that I've ever witnessed. The visual of Barbara Steele having the Mask of Satan literally SLEDGEHAMMERED onto her face is one that I will never again get out of my head. Do you remember the scene in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow where the spiked coffin closed on Lisa Marie? Well, picture that but in 1960. That shit HAD to be terrifying. I know it still makes me squirm.

Yup. Totally justified revenge. Revenge the SHIT out of them, Asa.
Regardless of whether or not Asa was a vampire or a witch or a frigging swamp monster, Black Sunday is still a gold standard in terms of revenge films. Yeah yeah, she and her boyfriend were "worshipping Satan" or whatevs, but that was an absolutely brutal death for anyone, regardless of what dark entity they chatted with in their down time. So not only is the revenge warranted, but it's frigging sweet. Even better, Asa is going after her OWN FAMILY! No one is spared this badass chick's wrath, even her own blood-related doppelgänger.

Stop that! You stop that! No! Bad! 
Yes, the dubbing is annoyfish. And yes, the acting is a little hammy. But when it comes to revenge films, Black Sunday is just the kind of movie that makes your Revenge Honey laugh maniacally with evil glee.

Revenge Honey Stabby Points: 4 1/2 out 5
(minus a half of a point for re-dubbing the dubbing of the dubbing. WHY DID THEY DO THAT?)