As the best thing that Mario Bava has ever directed, as well as the FIRST thing he's ever directed, I suppose my appreciation for "Black Sunday" is, at best, expansive. I do adore the film. It is not, perhaps, a work of extreme story-telling; but if not a masterpiece in that department, it most certainly excels as an atmospheric work. With that being said, it's still a pretty darn good example of a horror film; a classic on its own right, but somewhat lacking the impact that it's finale intends to deliver. For me, it lacks that same sense of horror and terror that swept over me when I watched classic horror features such as, say, "Psycho". But then again, few horror films can be compared to "Psycho". Maybe I'm being a bit unfair in doing so.
Some of my favorite horror films create- and depend on- atmosphere through set-pieces, make-up effects, and gore; rather than just special-effects...and gore. "Black Sunday" is a pretty scary and moody horror flick for a few good reasons. For one, Bava is good at making these kinds of films. Also, "Black Sunday" is just too damn entertaining to pass up. I suppose it will be most entertaining to those who can look at it for imagery rather than plot-complexity. Characters and plot...they matter, but not as much as "being scary". But it's good to see that "Black Sunday" has an aim.
A witch is executed. Before dying, she vows revenge on the family that helped sentence her to death. Sure enough, the witch (Barbara Steele) returns two centuries later, after being reborn through blood. The witch commands other spirits to help her in her quest for vengeance; and uses her own beauty, innocence, and trickery to toy with the minds of the mortals.
This here is the plot of "Black Sunday"; or at least the basic plot. It's a simple story of vengeance, with a supernatural-horror twist, with another twist involving the ever-so-interesting topic of Witch trials. I'm genuinely interested in films such as this one, and "Black Sunday" is stunningly made enough for me to invest in it as much as I can. The film is well-acted and performed; complete with Mario Bava's taut direction. This film is considered the "great man's" debut into the world of horror, and I can see why. "Black Sunday" is a wonderful horror film that does wonderfully ghoulish things with its little premise, and it's both a delight and a wholesomely fun night at the movies (or at home, as the case may be).
My first Mario Bava film was "Black Sabbath". That is a good film, not nearly as good as "Black Sunday", but a fair enough introduction into the world of Mr. Bava. I advise most readers to start here, for I should have done so. It might have benefitted me. Or maybe not, I'm not sure. I am judging "Black Sunday" for the film that it is; and thankfully, that makes it a pretty damn good one.
The film is essentially flawless. It's a shame about the dubbing, though. The film has gotten multiple DVD re-issuings, but the dubbing seems to be the only thing that just hasn't gone away. And I WANT it to go away; I despise dubbing. It's not done poorly here, and it doesn't completely distract from "Black Sunday" and its sheer spectacle, but it would have been nice. You might as well just pick the newest re-issued DVD and get that over with, because I don't think the original Italian audio is coming any time soon.
"Black Sunday" is inspiring and haunting; memorable and worthy of its legacy. I do not think that it's a total masterpiece, even for its genre, but certainly a classic. I'd watch it again from time-to-time, observing it as the piece of sheer art that it is. The imagery here is both scary, at-the-time gruesome, and haunting. And you cannot forgive an image that haunts you, but for me, this is kind of a good thing. Horror films can either give people nightmares or inspiration. Or for many, they can give you both. I live in a world where this genre isn't respected enough, and in all honesty, I only get inspiration out of watching the "greats" in horror cinema. But what's a nightmare anyways?