SHOUT AT THE DEVIL: Black Sunday (Mario Bava, 1960) | Buy Tickets
Mario Bava (director, cinematographer, set designer, magic maker) cast an enormously long and influential shadow on numerous filmmakers who came after him. From Martin Scorsese to Joe Dante to Ridley Scott, his influence often slips from homage to imitation. Of course, much is owed to Bava as his stylistic innovations made movie watching insanely special. He’s the grandfather of horror film and the originator of giallo (you know, that whole thing that kicked off the slasher craze here in American in the late 1970s/early 1980s) and kind of one of our favorites here around Nitehawk.
In honor of our Black Sunday (1960) screening this weekend, we’ve outlined below some of our beloved Bava films. Certainly not exhaustive, just some of our faves…
Black Sunday (1960)
In 1960, Mario Bava quickly worked his way up the ranks in the horror world with his directorial debut, Black Sunday. Though it shares the haunted-castle and spider-web aesthetic of many a tame Gothic horror film from the decade before, Black Sunday features of a level of violence that mainstream audiences had never seen before.
The film opens with a brutal medieval execution, one where a large masked man hammers a spiked mask right on to Barbara Steele’s pretty little face. At that point in film history, such grotesqueness was unprecedented– especially when inflicted upon such a gorgeous leading lady. As a consequence, the film was either heavily edited or outright banned from several markets. Regardless, along with Psycho and Peeping Tom, Black Sunday changed the direction of horror films forever — and it’s pretty scary too! – Kris King
Planet of the Vampires (1965)
When a pair of ships loaded with interstellar explorers move in to investigate a distress call from a distant, uninhabited rock, the crew of one of the ships goes berserk and rips each-other apart, sending the vessel crashing into the pastel colored fog of the planet below.
When the second ship lands to retrieve their fallen comrades, they bury the dead and begin hunting for the source of the initial distress call. But as time passes, the remainder of the crew begins to see their fallen comrades walking through the mists, and discover that they aren’t the first group of travelers drawn to this planet by this mysterious beacon.
An intense, spooky and well designed (those outfits!) sci-fi masterpiece, Planet of the Vampires is a film of almost pure atmosphere — largely because the production didn’t have the money to do anything else. Like an episode of Star Trek gone wrong, the film plays on the fears and dangers of exploring the unknown, and was a major influence on Ridley Scott for his own landmark sci-fi film, Alien. – Kris King
Kill Baby Kill (1966)
The ghost of a young girl haunts an 18th century village in the vibrantly colored Kill Baby Kill that stars horror seductress Erica Blanc (she of Devil’s Nightmare). As with most Bava, there’s more than meets the eye with the thin story presented. Undertones of sado masochism, overlaps in time, and superstition all collide into the one terrifying realization that there’s no escaping the wrath of this girl if she wants you dead! The phantom bouncing ball and her echoing creepy laughter will haunt you for life! – Caryn Coleman
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1969)
Considered to be the first giallo, The Girl Who Knew Too Much tells the story of a young American girl in Rome who finds herself in a situation similar to the murder mystery novels she reads. Exquisitely shot and all light and shadows, the film is just the right mix of scary and humor as the audience solves the mystery along with Nora and a very young John Saxon. It’s a truly beautiful film that ends, in signature Bava style, with a brilliant gag. – Caryn Coleman
Rabid Dogs (1974)
Only half directed by Bava (he passed away while finishing the film and his son Lamberto picked it up), Rabid Dogs is probably my personal favorite. Way darker than Last House on the Left but with way less: three criminals kill a girl, kidnap her friend, and carjack an older man. Their roadtrip to freedom is punctuated with dirty requests, torture, blood, and a twist ending you’ll never see coming. I wish Bava had lived longer to make more of these realistically driven horror films. Bravo! – Caryn Coleman