Saturday, 30 October 2010

A bit of Bava before Halloween

BLACK SUNDAY/ THE MASK OF SATAN  (Mario Bava; Italy; 1960)

Horror around Halloween? How obvious. My only comeback is that I thought I was grabbing Black God, White Devil off the university library shelf - I was hankering to re-view Rocha's masterpiece, but it seems the spirits have something else in store for me. Ooooooooo. Bwah hahaaa. Etc.

Actually, I had Bava's film lined up to watch for ages, for two reasons. 1). It's on a list I feel compelled to conquer (ahh, film lists, the blood of my movie obsession, the bane of my anally-retentive tendencies). 2). Unlocking the Barbara Steele mystique. The images for this film have haunted me for years - Ms Steele with he big googly eyes, pierced face, staring straight at you as if she is about to claim your silly little cinema-loving soul. Fortunately, her hilarious ham-acting in Shivers un-did a lot of the tension regards her eerie screen presence - her ridiculous heavy petting moment when she hisses "kisskisskisskisskisskissssss" cracked me up. Now I just need to see a bit more ham from the film that generates the "Creepy Big-Eyed Barbara" mystique and I'll be fine.

If the plot is fairly standard and creaky, then at least the film is interesting to look at. The film is most memorable for its stark monochromatic look - blackest of blacks and sharp angular white. Monochrome is crucial, for the camera often drifts into cavernous dark nooks and crannies, immersing us in chills of sheers darkness. The film emits cold.

Best of all is that sense of mapping that cinema sometimes elicits, where characters move one way, and the camera tracks back to where we just were a moment ago. Early in the film, two doctors stumble upon the tomb holding the witchy and apparently deceased Ms Steele. As they travel away from the tomb in their carriage, the camera lingers briefly on their exit, then starts to gently move back to the path they came from, moving down the path towards the black opening in the tomb, the size of the blackness getting larger and larger as we approach the tomb again. You have the awful sense, just for a moment, of having been left behind, left with the blackness and impending doom.

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