Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Black Sunday (1960)

I have a weakness for monster films, especially those with slightly dubious effects. I get a huge kick, for instance, out of swamp monsters, mummies, and giant lizards that are, in reality, plastic and the size of an average human hand. And so I thought that Black Sunday, (La Maschera del Demonio in the original Italian, but I saw a decently dubbed version) would be one of those films.

I was pleasantly surprised. The movie was about as classic and straightforward as a horror film gets - Evil spirit gets killed vowing revenge. Men of knowledge stumble upon the grave and dismiss the legends surrounding it as fanciful and fantasy. Through their scientific hubris, they manage to raise the evil spirit. The evil spirit attempts to inflict its revenge on the descendants of the people who originally killed it - descendants that happen to include a beautiful girl.

And the movie wasn't seamless by any means. Dubbed reactions of terror and fear don't really carry much authenticity - they aren't believable, and they weren't in this movie. The sets were, well, sets, and you find yourself wondering as to the motivation of the evil spirit's actions (They behave similarly to the villains in a Scooby-Doo cartoon. They're evil and have evil goals, but the methods that they use to accomplish these goals aren't well thought out. Conveniently, they provide dramatic set-ups though...).

But if you give Black Sunday a chance, and don't dismiss it outright as a campy horror film from the '60s, you'll discover a movie that actually manages to evoke a decently creepy atmosphere. It is quite odd sometimes when you know exactly how a scene is going to turn out, yet due to the lighting, the drawn out action, and the music, you find yourself on the edge of your seat, nervously shaking your leg and waiting for the scene to come to a resolution. The movie manages to supersede your conscious recognition of what is to occur and why the scene shouldn't be scary, yet due to the subtle tricks it employs, manages to scare (or at least provoke a steady diet of fingernails) all the same.

On a slight tangent: Horror movies are an excellent example of the power of the film medium. By combining visual images, sounds, and a story, horror movies evoke a truly unconscious reaction with a physical aspect. Goose bumps raise on your arms, the hair on the back of your neck stands up, you tense up, heart rate increasing slightly and then...jump. And you're prompted to react in this way by a TV or movie screen? As I said, it speaks to the power of the medium, but it also speaks to the way in which we are able to completely immerse ourselves in a movie, allowing our reactions (true reactions) to be governed not by real life, but by images on screen.

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