BLACK SUNDAY aka THE MASK OF SATAN. (1960) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

black sunday

BLACK SUNDAY, aka THE MASK OF SATAN. (1960) DIRECTED BY MARIO BAVA. LOOSELY BASED ON THE SHORT STORY ‘VIY’ BY NIKOLAI GOGOL.

STARRING BARBARA STEELE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This Italian horror movie is the most magnificently gothic film you could ever watch. The scenery and settings are as eerily, dustily gothic as you could possibly wish for, and scream queen Barbara Steele is infinitely watchable as the two lead characters. (She plays a dual role here.) It made stars out of both Steele and Mario Bava, the Italian director.

Steele’s face and figure are exquisite, her hands beautiful, slender and expressive, but that face! The camera is right to focus on it for much of the movie. Close-up, she really is the most striking creature to ever draw breath. Surely no actress has ever played a gothic princess quite so perfectly.

Here, she does a brilliant job of portraying the poor doomed Princess Asa, sister of the ruler of Moldavia, a European kingdom in the seventeenth century, about 1630, to be exact. Her horrible brother, Prince Vajda, has condemned her and her manservant Javutich to death for supposedly being witches, vampires and cohorts of Satan (I accidentally typed ‘cohorts of Stan’ there by accident, which is much less menacing…!)

The first five minutes of the film show Asa’s agonising death. The scene is so controversial that the film was banned in England till 1968. It shocked the living daylights out of me when I saw it first, especially the bit with the enormous executioner-type guy wielding the heavy mallet…! Repeat viewings showed me clearly that the scene has lost none of its power to shock, just because sixty years have elapsed.

I won’t describe the death here; it’s just too gruesome. My sympathies are entirely with the poor persecuted Asa, who curses her brother and all his descendants, not just for three months (a joke from The Simpsons), but for all eternity.

Then the action moves to two hundred years later, in the same God-forsaken kingdom of Moldavia. Two doctors are on their way to a medical conference when their carriage breaks down outside the tomb of Princess Asa, the witch.

They are fascinated to see her face, still covered by the mask of Satan, and the older doctor, Choma Kruvajan, makes the mistake of allowing the blood from a cut on his hand to drip onto the witch’s face, an action which we just know will bring the vengeful witch back to life. Well, if it was good enough for Hammer’s Dracula…!

The handsome younger doctor, Andrej Gorobec, falls head-over-heels in love with Princess Katia of the House of Vajda, the descendant of Asa who also happens to be a dead ringer for the deceased witch.

Katia’s haunting beauty and the air of sadness that envelops her like a cloud of Chanel No.5 draw Andrej to her like a fly to an open jam pot. But is now a good time to be wooing a princess of the doomed House of Vajda, especially given that Asa and her servant Javutich are back and baying for blood…? On his own head be it, then…

The crypt and castle here are the best and most atmospheric I’ve ever seen in a gothic movie. The monochromatic black-and-white is eminently suitable to the fearful tone of the film. Dread and terror are in the air, and no-one is exempt, not Katia, not her brother Constantine and not her father Vajda or her new lover, Andrej. Beware the mask of Stan. There, you see? I’ve done it again. Beware the mask of Satan, I meant to say. It’s like the mask of Stan, only deadlier…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

 

THE GHOST. (1963) STARRING BARBARA STEELE. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

barbara steele tree

THE GHOST. (1963) DIRECTED BY RICCARDO FREDA. STARRING BARBARA STEELE, PETER BALDWIN, ELIO JOTTA AND HARRIET MEDIN. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Set in Scotland in 1910, this is an absolutely gorgeous Italian gothic horror film, made in colour and starring that most divine of all scream queens, Barbara Steele. If ever a woman was born to wear period costume and the unrelieved black and jet of widow’s weeds in the setting of a fabulous old gothic mansion, it is surely Ms. Steele. With her dark hair, those huge dark flashing eyes with extra-white whites and her pouty pink lips, she is a horror goddess of some considerable distinction.

Here, she plays Margaret Hichcock, the beautiful and much younger wife of eccentric millionaire physician-scientist and occultist, John Hichcock. John is a cripple and confined to a wheelchair. Margaret seems outwardly devoted, loving and attentive to her unfortunate spouse, who lavishes her with jewels and furs and fantastic dresses, with his magnificent mansion in which to store everything.

One is reminded of the words of spoof chat-show hostess Mrs. Merton (Caroline Aherne from The Royle Family) to her guest on the couch, magician’s assistant Debbie McGee: ‘What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels…?’ Get what she’s implying? Of course you do. Snigger.

John Hichcock has a tendency to feel extremely sorry for himself, despite his millions of pounds, his wonderful seaside mansion and his stunning younger wife. Well, I suppose he doesn’t feel very virile and manly next to his doctor, the younger Charles Livingstone, who is both, and staying in John’s house to boot, so as to be on hand for his patient. Oh, didn’t I mention that poor, crippled John has a love rival in the form of this handsome and bearded medic…? Well, he does, lol.

Unbeknownst to John (though he surely must suspect something), Margaret and Charles are having the kind of deeply passionate sexual love affair that a man in a wheelchair can probably only dream about. Their coupling is urgent and satisfying, but it goes much farther than this.

Margaret, head over heels in love with the attractive, rascally doctor, wants him to prove his love to her by performing the ultimate act of devotion: killing John, so that she and Charles can be together forever, whilst enjoying the material fruits of John’s labour together as well. The dastardly pair can almost taste that lovely money…

It never works out well though, does it? You’ve only got to watch films like Double Indemnity, later re-made as Body Heat, and The Postman Always Rings Twice, Dial M For Murder, A Kiss Before Dying and A Perfect Murder, to know what happens to young lovers who try to kill the wealthy spouse of one or other of them.

Even if they do manage to get the job done and the hated spouse, who’s standing in the way of their perfect happiness, is successfully bumped off, the terror of getting caught almost always leads the guilty parties to begin destroying each other with suspicions, paranoia and fear.

Riddled with guilt and maybe even regrets, they’ll often behave so nervously and carelessly that they give themselves away to the Poirot, Maigret or Morse waiting patiently to catch them and who, quite frankly, has suspected them from the start and was only giving them enough rope with which to hang themselves.

Still, as if any of this would ever prevent a pair of lovers from committing murder if they thought they could get away with it! Charles does the devilish deed, but almost from the moment he does it, Margaret and Charles both are plagued by John’s ghost, which is presenting itself inopportunely around the house in ever more ghoulish manifestations.

Are their guilty minds causing these manifestations? I mean, are they hallucinating or is there something more sinister at work here? Is one of them trying to gaslight the other? It’s happened before in situations like this. And corpses have frequently turned up acting the mickey after death in other movies as well, films like Crucible of Horror, starring Michael Gough, and Hammer’s Taste of Fear with Christopher Lee.

John’s safe has been emptied as well, to make things a million times worse, and Charles and Margaret are doing their utmost to try to recover the wealth, without which they’ll have killed John for nothing. Where is the money, and who or what is trying to drive them mad? Who will triumph, Charles or Margaret or, as is infinitely more likely, neither? Remember that we’re not usually intended to profit from our murder of another…

Barbara Steele’s strikingly beautiful and expressive facial features are the undoubted star of this show. There’s some gorgeous scenery too though, like the graveyard in which stands the Hichcock family crypt, where some deliciously atmospheric scenes of gothic horror are set.

Watch out for the reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which had already been made, and the little similarity to The Changeling, the George C. Scott horror movie which by this stage had not yet been filmed.

The characters of John’s old governess Catherine and the local cleric Canon Owens, a wittering little man who knows full well on which side his bread is buttered, are excellent additions to the little cast of five. The scenes of possession are genuinely creepy. But Ms. Steele’s unusual beauty still comes out on top every time. God save the (scream) queen…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor