Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Around the World in Eighty Movies - number 2

Country: Italy
Title: La Mashera Del Demonio (The Mask of Satan, aka Black Sunday)
Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Ivo Garrini, Arturo Dominici
Year: 1960
Running time: 87 minutes
Genre: Horror
Notable for: Being banned in the UK until 1968

1960 saw a trio of horror films released that broke new ground in the genre, generated varying levels of controversy and have since gone on to be regarded as classics - Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Italian director Mario Bava's The Mask of Satan. Whilst Powell and Hitchcock's movies were contemporary in both theme and style, Bava's official directorial d├ębut took classic themes - vampirism/witchcraft/resurrection - and updated them for the modern era with healthy doses of onscreen violence. Containing scream queen Barbara Steele's breakthrough role as the vampire-witch Asa Vajda, The Mask of Satan was banned in the UK until 1968 and often censored in house before screenings in the US due to its gruesome scenes. Bava, who began working as a cinematographer, including a stint working for Roberto Rossellini, had unofficially directed or completed direction on seven previous films, but it was The Mask of Satan and its critical and box office success that brought him international recognition.

Undeniably atmospheric and shot through with memorable imagery, The Mask of Satan may appear tame to modern audiences used to torture porn but it made Bava the Godfather of Italian horror movies and paved the way for his son Lamberto and fellow countrymen Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci's later careers in the horror and Giallo genres. Italian film-making is rightly lauded for giving the world neo-realism, but their contribution to horror cinema is not to be underestimated.

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