Black Sunday (1960) – The Film

Production on La Maschera del demonio began on 28 March 1960 at the Scarlea Film Studios. Several of the exteriors shots were on location at a rented castle in Arsoli. Mario Bava decided to shoot the film in English in order to make it acceptable for the international market.

And because of Bava’s strong visual sense, the sets were designed in monochrome to enhance the black and white photography

For the roles of the evil witch Princess Asa Vajda and her innocent descendant Katia, Bava’s choice of actress couldn’t be more inspired. A former starlet at Rank Studios, British actress Barbara Steele had been offloaded by Rank to 20th Century Fox. After hanging around Hollywood for a while, she moved to Italy, where she attracted the attention of Bava.

Steele’s hauntingly beautiful face and expressive eyes were perfect for the film, although she and Bava never got on. She objected several times to the use of fangs and was fearful that Bava would force her to appear nude. Admittedly the teenager’s attitude stemmed mainly from her inexperience and problems with communicating with the Italian cast and crew. Only receiving pages of the script every day throughout filming can’t have improved matters.

Production finally wrapped on 7 May 1960. It finally premiered in Italy on 11 August 1961 to favourable reviews and modest box office, although the rather gruesome content resulted in the film being banned from the UK until 1968.

When Samuel Z Arkoff of American International Pictures, saw the film during a visit to Rome, te purchased the US distribution rights for $100,000, which far exceeded the film’s budget. With several edits, re-dubbing the actors (including Steele) and replacing Roberto Nicolosi’s music score with a more familiar horror theme by Les Baxter, Black Sundaymet with a huge box office success.

To this day Black Sunday remains an influential work. It put Italian Gothic on the map, made a horror star of Barbara Steele, and turned Mario Bava into an iconic cult figure. However his subsequent career never quite equalled his official directorial debut.

That will be covered in the next blog.

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