Viking Night: Black Sunday
By Bruce Hall
October 11, 2017
The only thing more metal than being burned at the stake might be swearing vengeance against your killers as you roast.
It’s also a great way to start a film. Fitting then that for his directorial debut, Italian horror-meister Mario Bava would more or less recreate the opening of a Megadeth video. Long ago, in the East European region of Moldavia, an evil witch named Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) has been condemned to death by a tribunal of hooded weirdoes. She’s accused of being a witch, but this isn’t one of those situations where an innocent victim of social paranoia is being sent to their doom.
No, Asa is one hundred percent a witch. And she’s damn proud of her accomplishments. Her punishment specifies that she be scorched with an iron brand, after which a spiked mask will be hammered onto her face by a giant man-baby with a mallet size of Rhode Island. This is precisely what happens, but not before Asa swears vengeance upon her judges. Brava shoots the scene with such mastery over light and dark that a chill ran up my spine the first time I saw it. Like many Italian films of the time, the dialogue is English dubbed over English, which oddly adds to the scene’s grim potency.
The only thing missing a blistering Yngwie Malmsteen solo played on a flaming guitar while lightning strikes everything in the world. Five minutes in, and there was no doubt in my mind that this film was going to be hard core. And for the record, it’s actually called “The Mask of Satan”, but I assume that America in 1960 was not ready for those four words in that particular order to appear on a poster in public. Plus, the word “Satan” is already uttered in this film about 600 times, so the title was changed to “Black Sunday” when it crossed the pond.
That’s okay. It doesn’t change a damn thing. This movie is NOT screwing around.
Two centuries later, a pair of Moldavian doctors are traveling the woodside looking for a shortcut before nightfall. Against their driver’s advice, they take the Pass of Almost Certain Doom (that’s the name I came up with, at least) and immediately break down in the dark, rainy woods filled with howling wind and the mournful cries of a thousand cursed spirits. While the driver sets about repairs, Doctors Thomas (Andrea Checchi) and Andre (John Richardson) decide to go exploring.
So, I have a joke for you. Stop me if you’ve heard it before. The 17th Century equivalent of two metrosexual plastic surgeons are stranded on the Pass of Almost Certain Doom in the Moldavian wilderness, not thirty paces from the tomb of legendary apostate Asa Vajda. Want to guess who accidentally stumbles onto what, and who accidentally cuts their finger and allows a drop of fresh blood to fall upon the corpse?
Nah, don’t guess. It’s not what you think. This is a multi-generational story of revenge, if you’ll remember. So in an interesting twist, Steele plays both the part of the evil Asa, as well as her virginal descendant Katia. Her father, the present Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani), lives in fear of the Curse and can already sense something is amiss - twenty minutes into the movie. Hundred year-old paintings dance, the face of evil appears in a glass of wine and a sense of malaise settles upon the land as certain...things begin to emerge from the night.