Upon first choosing Black Sunday to watch on Netflix I was beyond thrilled. I admit, I was initially led astray by my own misconceived brain thinking that the film I was about to watch was the 1977 thriller Black Christmas. Nevertheless, Black Sunday was nestled snugly in the “Gory” sub-genre of horror and boasted 3 and half star rating out of 5. I thought, “are you kidding me? Almost four stars– for a horror film? That’s like finding gold at the end of a rainbow!” I got comfortable on the couch, pulled up the blankets and prepared myself for terror. I waited and waited growing more impatient for the mere 82 minute long film to end. When it finally did I was frustrated at what I had just watched. Disappointed is an understatement.
Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) was a worshiper of Satan. There’s no discussion if she went balls to the wall like real life Dutch Countess and full time serial killing psychopath, Elizabeth Bathory, who killed or tortured countless people. No, Princess Asa’s crime was simply who she chose to worship in an age of Christian faith. For her deeds she is burned at the stake with her lover and fellow Satan worshiper Javuto. The two die a brutal death, but not before Asa can curse her brother, who has sentenced her to death. Asa curses not only him, but his entire lineage. Fast forward two centuries later and we are acquainted with Dr. Thomas Kruvajan and his assistant Andre Gorobec whom after a few minutes of exploring uncharted woods inadvertently awakens the spirit of the evil Asa. Her soul now thirsts for carnage and torture while the current castle dwellers, including a young woman who resembles Asa, Katia (Barbara Steele), and the townspeople must endure her wrath.
On a technical level, Black Sunday is phenomenal. Director Mario Bava, who also shared cinematography credit with Ubaldo Terzano, were a dream team at capturing the essence of horror and time period in which the story takes place. Together the two created exuberant depictions of shadows and silhouettes looming ever so menacingly in the background of scenes. Black Sunday exhibits excellent use of lighting that not only captures the dark, grave aesthetic of the film, but it creates some impressively beautiful shots where black and white contrast perfectly against one another for stark, stunning imagery. Bava’s movement of the camera adds a poetic fluidity to scenes that is accentuated through tight edits by Mario Serandrei that either strikes images into place or softly fades them into being.
Nothing to see here folks, move along.
Unfortunately, most if not all of the sound in Black Sunday is dubbed. I thought, “hey I grew up on Jackie Chan films and have watched tons of dubbed foreign films, so I’ll definitely be able to ignore this.” Nope. Didn’t happen. Everything is dubbed over in Black Sunday, much like the ill-fated Manos: Hands of Fate. The characters all speak English, but apparently American producers at the time didn’t think that was good enough, instead opting to re-dub all the dialogue. Such a decision makes watching the film distracting as characters say words quicker than their mouths move or too late after a mouth is closed. What’s worse is the decision of what gets over dubbed versus what doesn’t. The wind on a dark night, of course. Paper flying around mysteriously in a room, screw it.
The acting throughout Black Sunday is hilarious mix of overacting by some players and underacting of others. John Richardson as Andre is about as dry as a burnt cracker. In fact, his bland, wooden acting is on par with the likes of Rachel Bilson or Rachel Leigh Cook. I’m sure that most of the bulging eyes and theatrical performances from the rest of the cast was an attempt to make up for Richardson’s amateur skills.
“Look I can’t help it, I’m doing it for the future Hayden Christensens!”
As a whole, Black Sunday is a pretty bland, subparly written film. Character’s motivations don’t go beyond “because we need something to jump out at them.” During one scene after Andre and Katia’s bother, Constantine, discover a hidden passageway in the fireplace, they proceed to go in it, but not before this great line takes place: “This is where I found the dogs with their throat slashed and where Churivan disappeared. Let’s go in!”
I respect Black Sunday for its classic tale of good versus evil and even more so for Bava’s incredible visual eye along with the stunning make up work. The imagery alone is enough to send chills down a spine, however, Black Sunday would have been more effective with the sound turned off. It’s creepiness is watered down by its terrible overdubbing and even worse, the sound effects. I like the gonads that Black Sunday had for it’s time, just not the way they swing.
Take a drink: Every time Katia faints
Take a drink: Every time a door opens or closes with no one else around
Take a drink: Every time there’s a focus on a shadow.
Take a drink: For every person who is made into a minion of evil.
Do a shot: when you’re not sure if you’re watching Katia or Princess Asa.