Tuesday Terror – Black Sunday

Black Sunday (1961)
Sometimes Satan, with his capacity for doing evil, even plays tricks with the dead.

blacksunday barbara steele
 Black Sunday ©Kino International

After following in his father’s footsteps, cinematographer Mario Bava made his directorial debut with 1960 gothic horror, Black Sunday, aka, The Mask of Satan, about a witch named Asa Vajda from Moldavia, who vows revenge after she and her apprentice are condemned to death by her brother, the crown prince. Two centuries later, on Black Sunday, the day Satan walks the earth, a traveling physician and his assistant unwittingly bring the witch back to life. After turning her apprentice into a vampire, Asa immediately sets out to fulfill her cursed prophecy, by terrorizing her brother’s descendants.

 

Production started in late March 1960 and took less than two months to film, releasing in Italy in August of 1960. The film was a modest success, bringing in $140 million lire, earning back its production costs, but performed much better in Europe and the US. Despite being low-budget, Black Sunday was praised for its originality and vivid imagery, however, the gore and gruesome violence shown in the film drew much criticism and was even banned in the UK until 1968, when a heavily censored version, retitled as Revenge of the Vampire, was finally released. The uncut version wouldn’t be shown until 1992!

 

In the US, Black Sunday was shown as a double feature with Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors in February 1961. In order to make the film less objectionable, American censors edited the movie down three minutes, excluding such violent scenes as, the burning and branding of flesh, eyeball impalement, and blood spewing out from the mask as it was hammered onto witch’s face in the opening sequence.

 

Unknown British actress Barbara Steele was cast in the lead duel role of the evil witch vampire Asa and her innocent descendant Katia. Even though her voice was dubbed by another actress, audiences swooned over Steele’s haunting beauty and loved her villainous portrayal of the vengeful Asa. Barbara Steele reportedly had a hard time on set and gained reputation for being difficult, mostly due in part to the lack of communication and language barrier.

BlackSundayposter
©Kino International

What was once shocking to audiences of the early sixties, holds the same magic to influence numerous artists and filmmakers over the years, including Francis Ford Coppola, who is said to have recreated several scenes in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as a homage to Bava, and Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, which borrowed imagery, namely, the iconic death by iron maiden scene. The horrifying story of revenge and all its extreme violence and sexual suggestions actually helped Black Sunday become a cult classic.

Black Sunday
©Kino International

Tuesday Terror – Curse of Frankenstein

Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
I’ve harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!

curse 3
Curse of Frankstein ©Hammer Film Productions

Hammer Film’s first incursion into the Frankenstein mythos, Curse of Frankenstein, spawned several sequels, all of them starring soon-to-be horror icon Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein.  Directed by Terence Fisher, in what would be the first of many films that Fisher would make for Hammer Films, the film also starred a young Christopher Lee, playing the Monster, before he would go on to don Dracula’s cape for the next three decades.

Universal Films fought vehemently to protect their own Frankenstein film and its rights, which reflected heavily on many decisions Hammer made during filming. Make-up artist Phil Leaky created a brand-new look for the monster, and several key scenes from the novel were cut due to a limited budget. Despite its limitations, Curse of Frankenstein impressed many with its art direction, costuming, camera work, and the stellar cast, which also included English actor Hazel Court, (just starting out in her lengthy career as a horror queen), and Scottish stage and TV actor Robert Urquhart.

 

This story revolves around Frankenstein himself, rather than his creature, choosing to show the Baron as a more ambitious, egotistical and ruthless man; at the start of the story, he awaits execution for several murders. Hammer’s version of Dr. Frankenstein is a villainous man, willing to commit crimes, set up a man’s accidental death, aka murder, to obtain the parts he needs to create his creature, and even use the poor creature to kill opponents standing in the way of greatness. Since, the brain was damaged, it becomes apparent quickly that the monster has little intelligence and is too far too violent to control, thus, Frankenstein is forced to destroy his greatest creation. With the evidence gone, fate comes down to his younger associate Dr. Paul Krempe, the only witness to the experiments.

curse
©Hammer Film Productions

Colin Clive may have had the most memorable line in horror history, but it was Peter Cushing who was highly praised for the truly unforgettable performance of Victor Frankenstein, for fleshing out the character that audiences deemed charming and intriguing, in spite of his villainy. It was Cushing that helped inspire the mad scientist archetype and motivated Hammer to continue his story all the way into the 70s.

Curse of Frankenstein was Hammer’s first color film and considered by many to be the first truly gory film. The deep red blood and guts appeared gorier on screen than any other horror film of its time, causing a bit of uproar and scathing reviews. It even received an X rating for a time, when it opened at the London Pavilion in 1957. Despite receiving the lukewarm reviews from critics, audiences seemed to really like the film, grossing nearly $8 million, thus, putting Hammer Films squarely on the map.

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Curse of Frankstein ©Hammer Film Productions

 

Top 10 Back to School Horror Films

It’s that time again. Time for all the kiddos to go back to school. Hollywood has long picked on teens to sell their worst nightmares to the delight of horror fans all over the world. Just when you thought there was nothing scarier than teenage angst and rampant acne, here’s ten Back to School thrillers that will make you glad that you’ve already graduated.

Prom Night (1980)

Chance of being killed is absolutely a good reason to skip the prom.

Four high schoolers, who made a pact in grade school never to reveal their involvement in the accidental death of a friend, are stalked by a masked killer on Prom Night, the anniversary of the death.

prom night

Unless you’re a diehard Idris Elba fan (which I am), I suggest watching original over the 2008 version. With Halloween and The Fog under her belt, star Jamie Lee Curtis secured the title of Scream Queen with Prom Night. The movie’s disco soundtrack became more popular with fans than the movie itself, but a copyright lawsuit killed its chances of US release. Original soundtrack was only released in Japan, making it a rarity among collectors but bootlegs are easily found these days.

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

No one sleeps through the night in this neighborhood.

Four teenagers are stalked through their dreams by the vengeful spirit of a janitor, and alleged child murderer, who was killed by the teen’s parents, years ago.

nightmare on elm st

This film gave birth to one of horror’s most iconic killers, Freddy Krueger, played by the charismatic Robert Englund, and superstar Johnny Depp, in his film debut; and, it also saved New Line Cinema from bankruptcy, when the film made a killing at the box office. The screech of Krueger’s clawed glove is second most hair-raising sound in horror, the first being, the infamous chainsaw.

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