The great Italian horror director Mario Bava isn't as well-known today as he should be; perhaps it's because his films relied more on mood and atmosphere than on plot and character, and very often his plots and characters were a little pathetic. But in terms of crafting a moody, moving picture with a genuine sense of nightmarish dread, he was practically unequaled. He had worked as a cinematographer in Italy for nearly 20 years when he made Black Sunday (1960), his official directorial debut. It was low budget, but considered rather sophisticated -- and even violent -- for its day (at least compared to things like Attack of the Giant Leeches). Today it's Bava's best known film and considered to be his masterpiece, which is ironic given that his greatest strength is his mysterious, majestic use of color, and that Black Sunday is in black-and-white.
Apparently based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, Black Sunday was a huge hit. It also made a star out of the haunting, sensuous Barbara Steele, who plays two roles here. She's a 200 year-old witch, Asa Vajda, who was burned at the stake and forced to wear a horrible mask with spikes on the inside. Two centuries later, she plays Katia who lives in a (haunted) castle with her father and brother. Some weary travelers become stranded near Asa Vajda's tomb and accidentally bring the old witch back to life (don't you hate that). She revives her old lover, turns people into vampires and plans to drain the blood of Katia so that she can gain immortality. Everything takes place in or around the creepy castle and the unholy graveyard. Bava's very simple use of the elements, like fog, light and shadow are still amazingly effective today. (No one could arrange spidery tree braches in the frame quite like Bava.)
Enjoy a day of rest and watch Black Sunday!