Black Sunday [1977]

Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver, Steven Keats
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller
Rating: R (Restricted)
Runtime: 143 minutes

The reigning masterpiece of Italian horror cinema, Mario Bava's Black Sunday remains one of the most stylishly photographed of all horror films, ranking with any other black-and-white film of lasting repute. This was the master cameraman's official directorial debut, and his striking compositions are the work of a genuine artist in peak form. Loosely adapted from a story by Nikolai Gogol, this chilling vampire tale begins in 17th-century Moldavia, where the evil Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) is executed for witchcraft and vampirism, along with her brother Javutich (Arturo Dominici). Two centuries later, a pair of traveling doctors discover Asa's crypt and inadvertently revive the evil princess, whose scheme of vampiric revenge is aimed at her own identical descendant Princess Katia, an innocent beauty (also played by Steele) whose lifeblood will ensure Asa's immortality. Influenced by Universal's classic horror films of the '30s and British Hammer films of the late '50s, Black Sunday (released in Italy as The Mask of Satan) is a dark fairy tale, with horror queen Steele as the definitive embodiment of erotic horror. With shocking violence (tame by today's standards) and visual emphasis on tombs, secret passages, ominous castles, and unseen forces, the film offers a wealth of memorable imagery and inventive technique. Redubbed, rescored, and harshly edited for its American release in 1961, Black Sunday is presented on DVD in the original English-language director's cut of The Mask of Satan, never before available in the U.S. The perfect movie to watch on a dark and stormy night, this timeless classic is the Citizen Kane of horror films, entirely worthy of its lofty reputation. --Jeff Shannon

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