Above all else this is a master-stroke of technical wizardry, encompassing the gothic beauty of the Universal horrors, and adding the blood-letting and sexual undertones of Hammer. Black Sunday is certainly more gory that any of Hammer's efforts (the sledgehammer opening is still quite wince-inducing), but by today's torture-porn standards, it's very mild. It is easy to why audiences were terrified by this film back in 1960, as although the film is by no means scary, the intensity of the atmosphere, brought on by the wonderful sets and camerawork, is successful in transporting you somewhere else entirely. You will accept the hokey plot and unexplained supernatural themes (is she a vampire, a witch or an undead entity?), and accept this as something much more - a work of art.
It's a setting seen a thousand times before - in literature as well as film. This is a world of midnight carriage rides through the woods, twisted trees with outstretched branches, creeping fog engulfing tombstones, old, tattered cobwebs, and old paintings coming to life. I would go as far as saying that Black Sunday is the only film from its era that succeeded in sucking out any elements of camp from this sort of setting, and creating a genuinely unsettling atmosphere. Bava achieves this by puncturing the film with sudden bursts of graphic violence, such as a steak through the head, that catches you off guard, and mixing this with the obvious sexual connotations, it becomes something far more sinister. Having influenced generations of film-makers with its innovations in sound and lighting, Black Sunday should be seen by all horror fans, and, in my opinion, deserves to be respected far more than it already is.
Directed by: Mario Bava
Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi