Monday Movie: Black Sunday, by David Bax
Every Monday, we’ll discuss a movie–it could be a classic, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like–and we’ll tell you where to find it online.
Black Sunday is loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story, “Viy,” but expanded to include increased amounts of two of Bava’s favorite things, Satanism and vampires. Two doctors traveling the mid-1800s Russian countryside happen upon a ruined chapel containing a surprising well-preserved corpse. Nearby, a family of aristocrats includes a young woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to the dead body. Both are played wonderfully by Barbara Steele. Through a bit of darkly mystical mumbo jumbo, the corpse comes to life and aims to drain the essence of her younger doppelganger in order to live anew, through witchy, satanic, vampiric means.
So much of Bava’s reputation is wrapped up in his use of color, it’s a pleasant surprise to discover he can be just as grand in black and white. A visual stylist first and foremost, he presents a gothic beauty that is rich and lush even without a full palette at his disposal. Both his interiors and exteriors are alluringly nightmarish in their production design and he photographs them (as his own cinematographer) with large pockets of darkness that don’t muddy the picture but rather add contour and texture. The term “painting with light” is often applied to cinematographers (it’s the name of famed D.P. John Alton’s book on the subject) but it’s rarely been more fitting than it is here.
Black Sunday is available on Fandor.