I love it when a movie I have heard nothing about and have absolutely no expectations for blow me away. That is one of the main reasons for doing the List, to be forced to watch movies I would not have picked myself and get that totally unexpected wow experience. I must have mentioned this so many times by now that it forms a lame and repetitive introduction, my apologies, but it still holds true.
The “Mask of Satan” (or “Black Sunday” or “La maschera del demonio”) is not the best movie I ever saw by a long shot, but it was refreshing and very much a surprise. Who said Italian movies was synonymous with neorealistic, arty and depressive films? Probably me until I saw this one.
What works in “The Mask of Satan” is that it is a gothic horror movie that takes itself serious enough to go all the way and does not pull any punches en-route. This is not a movie that winks at its audience or admits to any cheese and that is a rarity in this sort of movies. We get it all, demons, gothic dracula’esque castles, ghost carriage ride through the night, the dead awakening and lots and lots of gore. It would be so easy to laugh at this or call cliché, but the movie believes in its story, even its weaker parts, and I love it for it.
The film opens with an angry mob lynching a man and a woman as warlock and witch, in league with Satan. As part of the prosecution they ram a terrible nailed mask onto their faces, but not before the witch, Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele), has cursed her family in all future generations and vowed to return.
Two centuries later, in the nineteenth century, two doctors, Professor Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant Dr. Gorobec (John Richardson) are travelling by coach through this region. Halfway through a forest the coach loses a wheel and the doctors pass the time exploring a nearby crypt. This happens to be the very crypt where the witch is entombed. Kruvajan does all the things he really should not do. He breaks the crucifix keeping watch over her, removes her mask and drips blood onto her face. Now literally all hell breaks loose.
The warlock rises from his grave and starts haunting the old castle where the decedents of the Vajda family lives and when he strikes at the old Prince the doctors are called in to help the son and the daughter. Particularly the daughter is interesting because she bears a stunning resemblance to the witch (guess who is playing her).
What follows are murders, ghosts, undead demons and a luscious temptress. This is like Dracula but with more action and a very hot witch.
The visuals are great. You can tell that this is a movie made by a cameraman. I have not seen anything as goth as this since “Frankenstein”. Sets, effects, costumes, make-up (especially the gory stuff) is very well done. The acting is more mixed. You can tell that not all the actors are pro’s. Steele is good and so is professor Kruvajan, while Richardson is too much of a dandy.
The one thing that did not work was the sound. What I got was a dubbed version (I actually first bought a DVD with the original sound, but no subtitles and I speak neither Italian, nor Catalan…) and that worked poorly. Much worse was the soundtrack. That was just cheap and apparently very far from the original score. I may want to sit through the original version just to get the right soundtrack.
Towards the end the movie loses some of its strength, mainly I think because Richardson gets more space. Had the demons killed the whole bunch this could have been a 10/10 movie.
Despite that I loved this movie. It rushed by as only good movies do and I had a great time. It just does not get any more goth than this.