"You will never escape my vengeance, or of Satan's! My revenge will seek you out, and with the blood of your sons, and of their sons, and their sons, I will continue to live forever!"
Princess Asa Vajda
Black Sunday
Black Sunday (1960).jpg
Title: Black Sunday
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Nikolai Gogol
Ennio De Concini
Mario Serandrei
Mario Bava
Marcello Coscia
Produced by: Massimo De Rita (Italy)
Samuel Z. Arkoff (US)
Lou Rusoff (US)
Music by: Roberto Nicolosi (Italy)
Les Baxter (US)
Cinematography: Mario Bava
Ubaldo Terzano
Edited by: Mario Serandrei
Distributed by: Galatea Film; Jolly Film; Alta Vista Productions; American International Pictures
Released: August 11th, 1960
Rating: VM18
Running time: 87 min.
Country: Italy
Language: Italian (English dubbing)
Budget: ITL 139,000,000

Black Sunday, known in Italian as La maschera del demonio is a 1960 gothic horror film of the giallo sub-genre. Directed by Mario Bava, the film premiered in Italy on August 11th, 1960. It was released in the United States under the title Black Sunday on February 15th, 1961. It is based on the short story The Viy by Nikolai Gogol. Although Bava co-directed two previous films, I vampiri and Caltiki, the Undying Monster, Black Sunday stands out as his first credited role as director and is generally regarded as his first film. Black Sunday also marks the debut of British actress Barbara Steele, who will go on to star in several European horror films and become one of the most prominent scream queens of her generation.

Plot[edit | edit source]

17th century[edit | edit source]

Asa Vajda faces her executioner.

Kriavi Vajda, second born son of Prince Vajda of Moldavia, grand inquisitor of the Holy Inquisition sentences his own sister, Asa Vajda and her lover Igor Javutich on crimes of witchcraft and vampirism. Asa is branded with the mark of the devil, but before being executed, she rejects her brother's authority and places a curse upon his direct family line, exclaiming that she will live on through their family bloodline to carry out her vengeance. The inquisitors nail the bronze Mask of Satan to her face then begin burning both Javutich and she at the stake. Suddenly, a terrible rainstorm erupts, extinguishing the flames. The Inquisitors, fearing that the elemental fury is a testament to Asa's power, flee. When the storm subsides, they bury Javutich's body in unconsecrated earth reserved for murderers. The body of Asa is placed in the tomb of her ancestors. A large crucifix is placed upon the top of her coffin as a warning to others. A window is installed at the top of the coffin so that all who look upon it know that the Princess was buried bearing the Mask of Satan.

Two centuries later[edit | edit source]

Katia Vajda

Scientists Doctor Thomas Kruvajan and his young colleague Andre Gorobec travel by coach through Moldavia on their way to a conference in Mirgorod. The coachman is nervous about traveling through this region, but Kruvajan provides him added incentive by tossing him a few coins. As they continue, the wheel of the coach slips from its socket and they are forced to stop. The coachman promises that he will repair the wheel as quickly as possible. While the man works with the wheel, Kruvajan and Gorobec explore the ruins of a nearby abbey. They eventually come upon the crypt containing the remains of Princess Asa Vajda. Gorobec goes back outside to help the coachman, leaving Kruvajan to his own devices. A large bat swoops down upon him and Kruvajan swats at it with his cane. In attempting to destroy the bat, he unwittingly strikes the cross affixed to Princess Asa's coffin, as well as shattering the small glass window on top of it. He then decides to shoot the bat with his pistol. Gorobec runs inside the tomb after hearing the gunshot. Thomas explains what happened then reaches through the casket window and removes the Mask of Satan from Asa's head. Despite the vermin crawling across her body and the puncture wounds from the mask's nails, her face is perfectly preserved. Gorobec notices that Kruvajan has cut his hand. The older doctor believes he must have scratched it on a splinter of glass. Kruvajan finds a small triptych amongst the ruins and pockets it. After they leave, blood from the broken glass shard begins dripping down onto Princess Asa's face.

As they walk out of the courtyard, they encounter a young woman dressed in black with two dogs. Saying how she heard a gunshot, she asks them what they are doing here. They explain how curiosity drew them to the chapel as they were waiting for their coach to be repaired. They part company and the woman, Katia Vajda, returns to her family estate. In the coach, Thomas takes note of Andre's fixation with the young woman. Back in the crypt, the blood from Kruvajan's cut revitalizes Princess Asa and she opens her eyes.

Castle Vajda[edit | edit source]

"Its as if the witch tormented her victims with her own beauty before killing them."
Prince Vajda

Igor Javutich rises from the grave.

At Castle Vajda, Katia plays the piano while her brother Constantine cleans a hunting rifle. Their father, the prince, sits before a massive stone fireplace. The old man's eyes fall upon one of the paintings next to the mantle and he grows stricken as he notices that a portion of the painting has changed. Katia and Constantine come over to see what is alarming their father so much. Constantine sees nothing, but Katia notes the difference in the painting. An image of a griffin, which had once been silver, was now colored black. Complaining of his "tired spirit", the prince ushers his children off to bed, saying that he wishes to spend some time alone. After they leave, the family butler, Ivan, enters the room. The prince decides that on this night, the night of the Feast of St. George, he will tell him of the curse that has been placed upon his family. He tells him of the execution of Princess Asa and Igor Javutich more than two centuries ago. Exactly one-hundred years later, on St. George's Day, an earthquake destroyed the chapel where Asa was buried. Asa's tomb had been found split open. That same evening, her descendent Princess Marsha mysteriously died. Marsha was the spitting image of Princess Asa - a fact that reminds the prince how much his own daughter bears the likeness of Asa herself. He fears that Asa's vengeance will soon claim the princess. Ivan prepares the prince a tonic to calm his nerves, but when he stares inside the glass, he sees the Mask of Satan staring back at him. Frightened, he drops the glass.

Meanwhile, Thomas Kruvajan and Andre Gorobec spend the evening at a nearby tavern. Andre has had a considerable amount to drink and Kruvajan encourages him to go outside to get some air. As the man leaves, he passes by the innkeeper and her daughter, Sonya. The older woman instructs the girl to go out to the barn and milk the cows, but she is frightened. She doesn't like going to the barn at night as it is located adjacent to the churchyard ruins. Reluctantly however, she braves the fierce weather and marches through the wooded path between the inn and the bar to look after the cow. As the girl sets about her chores, Princess Asa, still confined to her coffin, uses her power to resurrect the body of Igor Javutich. Javutich claws his way out of the earth of an unmarked grave, his face still bearing the Mask of Satan. Once he is out of the ground he pulls the mask from his head, revealing a perfectly preserved face save for the scars from where the mask had been nailed to it.

Asa awakens.

Back at the castle, Prince Vajda awakens with a start. The wind is blowing through his bedroom, knocking over furniture and scattering paper all about the room. A door silently opens and in steps Igor Javutich. Instinctively, Vajda shouts, picks up a crucifix and holds it up. Javutich recoils in fear and disappears. Katia and Constantine race into the bedroom after hearing their father's shout. As the old man suffers a panic attack, Constantine orders his servant Boris to go into town to find a doctor.

The castle coach rides through the hills, but it is not Boris who is manning the horses. From the nearby bushes, young Sonya watches in awe as the coach races past her. It eventually finds Doctor Kruvajan, but it is Igor Javutich who approaches him, not Boris. He tells him that his medical expertise is needed and that he must return with him to the castle. He leads him back towards the castle, but detours through a secret underground passage that actually leads to the crypt where Princess Asa is buried. As Kruvajan enters the chamber, the door slams shut behind him, sealing him inside. He tries to find a way out, but all of the other exits seal themselves shut before he can reach them. Kruvajan turns back towards Asa's coffin only to see it explode before him. Princess Asa calls out his name and uses her power to summon him to her side. She takes his blood, transforming the doctor into her undead slave.

A short time later, Kruvajan goes to Prince Vajda's bed chambers. Constantine and Katia explain his condition, but Kruvajan's only advice is to remove the crucifix from the prince's night stand, saying that it might provoke another attack. He encourages them both to leave and get some rest. He will cancel his own plans and stay the night to watch over the prince. Katia takes her father's crucifix, thanks Doctor Kruvajan and leaves.

Death and despair[edit | edit source]

Andre meets the priest.

The following morning, Constantine bursts into Katia's room to tell her that their father has died. She instantly breaks down into tears. Against her brother's wishes, Katia goes into the master bedroom to see the prince. She is horrified to find severe scars all about his face and neck. Ivan searches for Doctor Kruvajan, but he is nowhere to be found.

At the inn, Andre Gorobec knocks on the professor's door, but there is no response. The innkeeper greets him and tells him that Doctor Kruvajan left the evening prior to answer an emergency at Vajda Castle. Andre leaves. As he passes near a river, he sees a group of children, which includes Sonya, and asks them directions to the castle. After he takes off towards a hill, the children discover the body of Boris the coach driver in the riverbed reeds.

Andre arrives at the castle and is greeted by Constantine. When he asks him about his colleague, the distraught Constantine tells him that the Professor disappeared after vowing to look after his father. Katia has fallen into a great state of depression. Andre goes to her room to check on her and is instantly smitten by her beauty. As Constantine and he watch over her, a group of villagers enter the foyer of the castle. Ivan goes to greet them and they describe finding Boris' body by the riverbed. Andre and Constantine come out to see what all the fuss is about. One of the villagers describes the mutilation done to Boris' face, saying that he looks as if he has the face of Satan. They tell them that Boris' body has been taken to the local sacristy. One of the villagers in attendance is little Sonya who agrees to accompany Andre to the sacristy to identify Boris' body. As they walk past the den, Sonya sees the portrait of Igor Javutich on the wall. She points to it and identifies him as the man she had seen on the coach. Katia comes downstairs and Constantine and she invite Andre to stay with them at the castle through these trying times.

The Vajda crypt

Andre goes to the sacristy and meets with the local priest. He sees that Boris suffered the same facial scars as that of the prince. Reflecting back on Prince Vajda's strange demise, he cannot bring himself to believe that Doctor Kruvajan would abandon a patient in his time of need. He tells the priest how Sonya described the man driving Boris' coach as the same individual whose likeness hangs in the castle. The priest's eyes widen, but he says nothing.

As evening approaches, Javutich and the undead Doctor Kruvajan sneak back into the castle by way of the hidden panel behind the fireplace in the salon. Javutich creeps into Katia's room with the intent of abducting her. She sees his gloved hands emerge from behind the curtains and lets out a scream. Andre and Constantine rush into her room, but Javutich is gone.

Andre comes upon Professor Kruvajan. The man is stoic and says nothing. Andre exclaims how everyone has been looking for him. He withdraws a triptych he had found in the professor's coat pocket and tells him that he needs his help translating a description. Andre feels that this might prove valuable towards undoing all of the mystery taking place at the castle. Kruvajan issues a warning to Andre to stay clear of these affairs and leaves.

Funeral[edit | edit source]

"The witch has transformed your friend into the slave of the devil."

Igor Javutich stalks Constantine.

The following day, Andre and Constantine prepare the main salon of the castle for the prince's funeral. Andre gives the priest the triptych he discovered and the older man promises to take it back to his church to see if he can translate the inscription. Afterward, Andre goes out to the garden to see Princess Katia. She is in a great state of despair and Andre tries to comfort her. Begging him to help her, Katia collapses into Andre's arms.

Inside the salon, a mysterious breeze blows through the room, fanning the flames of a candelabra, causing the tapestry behind it to ignite. Ivan comes into the room and begins swatting at the tapestry to put the fire out before it spreads. Unwittingly, he swats at the painting of Igor Javutich and tears a hole into it. Behind the painting is a hidden release lever that opens the secret panel behind the fireplace. Andre and Constantine come into the room and decide to explore the passageway. Constantine instructs Ivan to stay outside to make sure that the door doesn't close. After they leave however, Igor appears in the salon and strangles Ivan.

Andre and Constantine walk through the hidden passage and find that it leads into the crypt beneath the adjacent chapel. They find Princess Asa's body lying atop the broken remnants of her coffin. They see that while she appears to be in a death-like state, she is still breathing. Andre notes the similarity between Princess Asa and Katia Vajda and deduces that Katia is in great danger. The two split up to find different ways out of the crypt.

Andre returns to the sacristy and finds the priest. The priest has translated the inscription on the triptych and tells him that it contains instructions on how to destroy a witch. They determine that Igor Javutich is alive and is inside the castle. Racing through the cemetery on their way to the castle, they stumble upon the Mask of Satan. Andre notes a freshly dug grave nearby and they dig through the loose dirt and pry open the lid to a coffin. Inside is the body of Professor Kruvajan. The priest places a cross upon Kruvajan's forehead and sees that it burns into his flesh, proving that he is an undead agent of the Devil. Using what he learned from the triptych, he takes a coffin nail and stabs it through Kruvajan's eye. His body emits an unearthly scream and he falls silent. The priest then tells Andre that the witch will try to take possession of Katia. He must return to the crypt and pierce the left eye of the witch in order to destroy her once and for all.

Meanwhile, Constantine tries to make his way back to the salon in the secret passageway. He comes upon Javutich, but as he tries to back away from him, he falls through a trap door in the floor.

Asa's vengeance[edit | edit source]

Asa Vajda

Katia wanders throughout the castle looking for Andre, Constantine and Ivan. She goes into the salon and finds Ivan hanging from a noose. Terrified, she turns away. She runs to her father's coffin and falls to the floor in tears. The body of Prince Vajda slowly rises from the casket. He leers at Katia, his shallow voice confirming that he is now a victim of the family's curse. Katia faints and the prince leans over to kill her. Igor Javutich enters the room, but he is not about to let the zombie kill Princess Katia. His mistress has plans for her. He strangles the prince and tosses his body into the fireplace where it bursts into flames. Igor takes Katia's unconscious body and returns to the crypt with her. He places it next to the slumbering Princess Asa whose hand slowly reaches out to her. Asa begins to draw the life force from Katia's body, replenishing her own health and vitality. Asa rises from her coffin and taunts Princess Katia, declaring that she will now take her place and fulfill her vow of vengeance against the Vajda family bloodline.

Andre returns to the castle and finds that Katia is missing. He goes into the passageway behind the fireplace and runs afoul of Igor Javutich. The two grapple with one another and Igor tries to push Andre through the trap door. Constantine, who is barely alive, ascends the top of the pit and pulls Javutich down into it where he falls to his death. Andre helps the bleeding Constantine out of the hole, but there is little he can do. Before dying, Constantine begs Andre to save Katia.

Andre reaches the tomb and finds Katia standing next to the coffin. However, this is actually Princess Asa assuming Katia's identity. The real Katia has taken Asa's place on the coffin. She makes one mistake however. Andre notices Katia's cross about the throat of the woman on the coffin. He places the cross upon the forehead of the body, but when it doesn't burn the flesh he realizes that they have switched places.

The priest arrives in the crypt leading a horde of angry villagers. Andre points out how the woman dressed as Katia is actually the witch Princess Asa. They chase her out of the crypt and descend upon her. They bind her to a wooden ladder and set it on fire. As the witch burns to death, Katia returns to life. Overjoyed to see that the curse is finally lifted, Andre and Katia embrace in a passionate kiss.

Cast[edit | edit source]

Notes & Trivia[edit | edit source]

  • Other working titles include
  • Black Sunday was filmed at Titanus Studios in Rome, Italy.
  • Barbara Steele's last name is mis-spelled "Steel" on the US version of the film under the title The Mask of Satan.
  • In the AIP release, Igor Javutich's name was changed to Javuto. The original Italian credits listed his named as Fratello del Astrega.
  • This is the first gialli film to feature the concept of a black-gloved strangler. This motif is used in many such films and has practically become a trademark of the genre.

Taglines[edit | edit source]

Once every 100 years the undead of hell terrorize the world in an orgy of stark horror.

The Most Frightening Motion Picture You Have Ever Seen!

Stare into these eyes... discover deep within them the unspeakable terrifying secret of Black Sunday... it will paralyze you with fright!

External Links[edit | edit source]

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This article relates to the works of Mario Bava.
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