Wendigo remembered two characters, Asa and Javutich, being condemned as witches and cursing their Moldavian persecutors before the masks of Satan were hammered onto their faces. The shot of the mask being driven into Steele's face, and the mask bleeding blood (in black and white) brought back uneasy memories for him. It's about the most gruesome form of execution that he can imagine. The visceral though not gory quality of this scene set the tone for everything to come.
European horror films are still a tough sell for Wendigo despite his admiration for some of the movies I've shown him for our series. Black Sunday goes back before Euro horror got arguably too "European," however, and his recollections made him willing to rewatch the film. He's very impressed by Bava's direction, set design and cinematography, though even this master of making the most out of limited resources couldn't do a decent bat effect. The film has a strong gothic atmosphere throughout, a visual quality Bava enhances with remarkable events like the swirling sky as Javutich whips his carriage down a dark road. It probably represents the summit of black-&-white horror, from a director who would prove only more masterly in color. It also has a human special effect in the form of Barbara Steele in her star-making performance, ably assisted by Arturo Dominici as Javutich, equally creepy masked or unmasked. Wendigo finds Steele both stunningly beautiful and frightening, thanks to those powerful eyes. Her meteoric rise to horror stardom, not to mention Bava's rise to global fame, are perfectly understandable to him based on this film.
Wendigo didn't find the film very "European" because Bava didn't sacrifice narrative substance for the sake of style or sensation. Black Sunday doesn't deal in "dream logic," but tells a good old-fashioned yarn. It's more than the sum of its set pieces, while Wendigo finds many Euro horrors to be less. More to the point, it was just about as creepy as Wendigo remembers from his childhood. It's a film anyone will remember, even if disturbingly dimly, long after they've seen it. It isn't a landmark of the vampire subgenre, but it's certainly a classic of horror in general.
Barbara Steele: The good (top), the bad (middle), and even with the makeup there's no ugly here.
The American trailer was uploaded to YouTube by ennemme.