Now, for the rest of the 1950s and 1960s horror write ups (and then its on to the 70s before a weekend break):
One last note: this review was penned before I saw Blood and Black Lace:
One thing you can be sure about when it comes to Bava is that he is going to lay on the atmospheric creepiness immediately. His movies work at a much slower pace than other horror films, and that's not necessarily a bad thing as he simply builds up the tension, giving the viewer a more richer painted out vision of the nightmare they are witnessing. He was more old school style in his approach to making movies, as usually they were made on low budgets and are clearly based in the style of the famous Val Lewton pictures and the 1920s German expressionist classics. Going in and expecting "Boo!" moments and plenty of extreme violence would be rather foolish.
Besides, I like how eerie and creepy this movie without any additional trappings anyways. Barbara Steele gives an effective and awesome performance as a dread undead witch seeking vengeance for the past transgressions committed against her during the Dark Ages. Using her fellow undead buddy to do her sinister bidding, of course. Bava isn't just content to have her face marked with ugly, nasty nail marks but also focuses heavily on her deep, unforgiving eyes that seem to pierce the viewer's soul. Naturally as in some of Bava's other movies there is a fellow who would be best served to stay out of all this business, but intervenes anyways out of either curiosity or his love for a rather pretty lass.
Even though this movie is well made and executed, I wish the ending had more bleak and sinister. Having already seen Kill Baby....Kill! and Planet of the Vampires, two other rock solid horror films from him, I rather like this Bava fellow. Unlike Corman, who usually underlined many of his movies with a sense of campy or would go over the top, Bava manages to strike a certain balance. Black Sunday appears to be the best of his movies that I've seen so far, and it also a prime example of how to play a horror movie seriously. 81
Before becoming known for such films as The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Sound of Music, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Robert Wise worked with Val Lewton on a few horror films. One of them I have seen, and its pretty sweet: The Body Snatcher, which was creepy Gothic horror, sporting an excellent Boris Karloff performance. Well in 1963, Wise returned to the genre with the well made classic The Haunting, and I'm glad he did because the movie is pretty damn good. This film, much like "Snatcher," has rather strong psychological undertones. And it works. Also I flat out love the film's beginning, where the eerie sounding narrator tells the rather stark and dark tale of how Hill House became a cold, damp and forbidding place.
Unlike many other horror films that rely primarily on gore and jump scares, this movie instead slowly builds up its frightening moments, and rests on letting your imagination mainly take over. I much prefer this method instead, even though I must confess that many of the movies that have scared me feature rather shocking jump scares and more obvious methods. The cast itself is wisely rather tight and small, thus allowing us to focus on a few characters and thus making us more likely to fear for their safety. Large casts in horror movies are typically only useful for slasher movies anyways. Oh and apparently there was a lesbian undertone to the two female characters, but I really didn't see it.
Anyways, the film's last half is really, really strange, and is highly psychological. I'm not sure what really transpires, although there are clues to suggest that what the good Doctor thinks happened, happened. But I do like that final scene, one that sort of inspires a bit of creepy feelings and is sometimes featured in horror films. Overall I'd say so far this is one of the best horror flicks out of the ones I've seen so far, and it even stands a chance of cracking my Top 20. 90
Scare Level: 5.0
Anyone who bashes the slasher genre must be either ignoring films like this one, or the fact that not all slasher movies are some idiot running around in the woods with a large hunting knife. Although one can argue that this is technically a giallo and not a slasher picture, Bava's 1964 classic has many of the notable aspects of the genre. Females being murdered by a mysterious stranger who uses a knife and other ways of killing.
The audience left to try and figure out who the killer is, along with those in the picture. Many creepy moments, usually powered by the camera showing the killer's viewpoint as they stalk their prey in the night. However, unlike some hack director Bava had style, class, and a sense of how to make a visually stunning, well made horror movie that also had some good scares, entertaining to mass audiences while being interesting enough to please critics. Although I must confess I have no idea how Bava was received by critics during his career, he is now rightfully considered one of the masters of horror, who perfected his gothic brand and gave us horror fans many classics.
What I most like about this film is how the movie does not pull any punches, and just simply begins with a murder right away. In doing so Bava does admit that his characters are paper thin (another slasher movie characteristic), but he still keeps his camera on them, giving out enough information so that when they are actually hunted, we care if they live or die. Perhaps there is also a thematic undercurrent in this particular movie, but I'll be honest and admit that I don't recall just what it is: I can't imagine it being too deep, but still worth exploring nevertheless. Some of the kills are also rather graphic, such as one woman being burned alive, and a scene where one woman is trapped in a basement full of junk isn't just stylishly filmed, its also framed so that the audience actually can sense the tension and even feel her fear. After all, horror movies at their most basic level are meant to terrify and scare us.
Naturally I won't give away the final act, although I must admit Bava ends his movie in a clever and memorable way. So far out of the ones I've viewed from the Italian director, this one is the best, as its creepy, well directed, and unlike some of his other films features the least amount of flaws. I still have much to view from the man, and I look forward to exploring some of his other works, as he was a rather prolific director. 90