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Black Sunday (1960) Review

Continuing my expedition through the work of Italian film director Mario Bava has been a rather consistently enjoyable time. A Bay of Blood was the perfect introduction to his work, a mightily strong slasher that didn’t hesitate to fire up the gore and loosen up on the story. Rabid Dogs was the opposite, a film that relied on ample pieces of violence but knew its limitations and focused in on the demented breakdown and build-up between a group of mostly serviceable characters. Black Sunday falls somewhere in-between the two, never quite gripping the slasher idealisms nor the backbone of a thriller, and it showcases how easily Bava can begin to flounder. 

In turn, this inability to decide on the tone of the movie leads to some rather inconsistent and sadly bland scenes. What begins as a tremendously engaging film centres in on vampirism and dark arts soon toils around not knowing what to do with its leading characters. Leading man John Richardson brings us Dr. Andre Gorobec, who for the life of me I can remember very little about. He has the face of a generic leading man from the early 1960s, a role that could’ve been accomplished by more or less anyone with a working mouth and eyes. Richardson’s performance isn’t bad, nowhere close in fact, it just leaves no lasting impression at all. 

Come to think of it, none of the cast really offer all that much in the way of memorability. Black Sunday is an entirely forgettable film, a sad shame given the wasteful use of an interesting premise. A few scenes with Katia Vajda (Barbara Steele) in the early scenes of the film give us something to hope for, but that hope for me fizzled out rather quickly as we spend most of our time in predictably dull sets, including crypts, castles and taverns. Nothing sets Black Sunday apart from the similarities of vampire-oriented films already established within the genre. 

I’m still not quite sure whether or not Black Sunday is about vampires either. I assume so, given that there’s a prominent use of vampiric tendencies. Drinking blood, stakes through the heart, sleeping in wooden coffins and everything in-between features rather excessively, a surprisingly stark contrast between how much something is shown and how little it really matters is key to what makes Black Sunday so mediocre. It’s such a shame, Bava feels like he’s squandering his own ability to bring together a striking tale of horrors. 

Possibly one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had when it comes to films of recent memory, Bava’s venture into the horrors of witchcraft and vampires is a surprising dud. He’s possibly one of the few directors that could’ve brought something completely new to the table, reinventing the genre while scaring the hell out of us at the same time. But it was simply not to be, and Black Sunday is content to muddle along through a barebones story with a few scenes that showcase a glimmer of hope. 

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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