31 Days of Horror: Black Sunday

La maschera del demonio (1960) aka Black Sunday aka Le masque du démon aka La máscara del demonio aka A Maldição do Demônio aka House of Fright aka Revenge of the Vampire aka Mask of the Demon aka The Demon's Mask aka The Mask of Satan was Italian director Mario Bava's first film to gain international acclaim.

It's based very loosely on Russian writer Nikolai Gogol's short story Viy about a witch. That's pretty much where the similarities end. Bava's film starts in 1630 Moldavia, where a beautiful witch Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and her cohort (her brother in the Italian version and her lover in the American dubbed version) are burned at the stake for being witches by Vajda's other brother Prince Vajda. She places a curse on Vajda's family before having a mask with spikes hammered into her face.

A couple of centuries pass by and a couple of doctors are on they way through Moldavia and their carriage breaks down near an old cemetery. While waiting for the repairs they explore the cemetery and discover the tomb of Asa Vajda. They open her coffin and remove the metal mask and accidentally bleed into the corpse's face thus resurrecting the evil blood sucking witch.

The descendants of Prince Vajda include the latest in the line of princes - the aptly named Prince Vajda and his daughter Katia Vajda (also played by Steele). The evil vampire witch Barbara Steele wants the good Barbara Steele's blood thus ensuring her immortality. She also resurrects her lover/brother cohort Javuto (Arturo Dominici) to wreck havoc on the country side and assist Steele in her evil work.

Bava was an excellent cinematographer and it shows in this film. While the movie is pretty tame by today's standards, it suffered from several cuts at the time which removed some of the gore. It was also banned in Britain until 1968. Fortunately you can watch it mostly uncut - there is still one scene missing from almost every DVD available except the actual Italian disc. It's not a crucial scene, it shows Steele and her father talking outside briefly, but it does exist.

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