Black Sunday (1960)

Black Sunday (1960)

“In her you will live again, speak again — smile as she does!”

A vampire-witch named Asa (Barbara Steele) and her lover Javuto (Arturo Dominici) are burned at the stake in 1630 Moldavia, but return to life when a visiting doctor (Andrea Checchi) accidentally spills some blood on Asa’s corpse. Checchi and his assistant (John Richardson) meet a young princess named Katia (Steele) who looks remarkably like Asa, and are soon involved in a quest to prevent Asa from inhabiting Katia’s body.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Barbara Steele Films
  • Horror
  • Mario Bava Films
  • Vampires
  • Witches and Wizards

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “extremely effective film… remains the best Italian horror film” and “among the most atmospheric of [all] horror films because former cameraman [Mario] Bava conveys everything visually (which makes us forget dubbing”. In an eloquent, lengthy description (modified from his Cult Movies essay), Peary notes that:

“Bava’s malefic world consists of dark mountains set against a gray sky; mist-shrouded forests where tree limbs seem to reach out to grab those passing through; two-hundred-year-old graveyards where the soil is too cursed for anything to grow; ancient crypts where bats fly about in the darkness, spiders spin their webs, and decaying walls crumble; and shadowy, ice-cold castles full of creepy passageways and enormous hidden chambers. It’s a world where light fights a losing battle against oppressive darkness and even the pure (virgins, priests) wear black. With art director Giorgio Giovannini, Bava creates an atmosphere where the living and dead co-exist, unharmoniously.”

Peary further notes that Steele — whose “beauty is mysterious and unique” — was “the ideal choice” for the dual role as evil Asa and sweet Katia. In Cult Movies, Peary refers to Steele as “the most fascinating actress ever to appear in horror films with regularity”, and writes that “it is because of Steele, probably even more than Bava, that Black Sunday, in which her screen persona was established, remains a cult favorite”. Regardless, all film fanatics should certainly watch and enjoy this ultra-atmospheric classic horror film, which was banned in England for eight years (but likely won’t shock modern audiences who are used to much more gruesome imagery).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Barbara Steel(e) as Asa and Katia
  • Truly atmospheric cinematography, sets, and direction

Must See?
Yes, as a justifiable cult favorite.


  • Cult Movie

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Black Sunday (1960)

  1. I had a strange experience revisiting this film sometime in the past year.

    I had seen it once or twice many years ago and, with time, had pretty much forgotten anything about it. Nothing really stuck in my mind in remembrance. But I have always known that many film buffs hold it in high regard and it is often talked about to this day as a classic of its kind.

    So I rather looked forward to a repeat viewing. Surprisingly, though, I found a rewatch to be a dull affair. Yes, it’s atmospheric in a number of sequences. And, yes, Barbara Steele has reason to hold a place in our minds for films of this sort. Just, perhaps, not this one. I found it a chore to sit through.

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