La Maschera del Demonio goes by several English names; Black Sunday, Revenge of the Vampire, The Mask of Satan, etc. Whatever you call it, its influence in the horror (and even fantasy) genre is widespread and well-known; Francis Ford Coppola recreated some scenes from this film in his own, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Tim Burton has been cited as calling Mario Bava’s feature directorial debut as an influence on his work. Its legacy alone is probably enough to get it on the list, so how does the film itself measure up, especially in today’s modern sensibilities? Well, its impact is admittedly lessened somewhat in today’s age of moviemaking and watching, but the film is still a heck of an impressive feat.
The story is reportedly very loosely based on the same short story that would form the basis of the Russian horror flick Viy. A young woman, condemned as the witch she is, is branded and given “the mask of Satan”, which is literally nailed to her face in a rather gruesome scene, and burned at the stake. In doing this, these people seem to have gone to the same school of eternal punishment as the people behind Imhotep’s ritualistic execution in The Mummy; she is granted unholy powers as a witch, and is only prevented from rising from the dead by a window built into her crypt and a cross placed above the window, forever keeping her spirit at bay. Well, naturally, a couple of travelers stumble upon the crypt, end up breaking the cross and the window, and some of their blood is dripped onto the face of the long-dead witch, which just so happens to revive her, and she goes on an evil quest of retribution by attempting to drain the life force of her descendants to once again rise to power. There is a bit more to the plot than that, but I’ve gone on it long enough; suffice it to say, there’s a romantic subplot shoehorned in for the sake of it. What sells this film more than anything else is how well it pulls off its horror aspects. The production value was really something else. Whether the scenes were set in the forest, with its thicket of brambles and branches, or the crypt, with its amazingly spooky art direction, or the Vajda manor, with its incredible architecture and decor; everything was dressed to the nines, and the film was splendid to look at as a result. The film’s violence, particularly in the opening scene, was also quite notable, and especially explicit for the time, which caused the film to undergo quite a few bannings and censorings/re-cuts before it finally found a widespread following. Now, what doesn’t work? The script, that’s what. The script was downright laughable at times, and even with the translation into English, I could tell it was the fault of the original Italian screenplay and not some translation foible.
The print I saw had English dubbed over the original Italian, which is something I try to avoid if at all possible, but in this case, I didn’t mind it as much; the dubbing work was actually quite good, to the point that there were certain scenes of dialogue that I could’ve sworn were spoken in English. The delivery of some of the lines, however, was rather ham-fisted as a result as well, which unlike the script seemed to be the fault of the overdubbing of English, rather than the actors’ original performances. Still, this was pretty entertaining. Maybe a little too cheesy for today’s audiences to withstand without cracking a smile or two, but entertaining nonetheless. That, and the film’s countless influence makes it more than enough for a look on your part. You may not end up enjoying it as much as I did, that I can admit, but it is at least worth your time to check it out and see for yourself.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10