From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Black Sunday (Italian title: La maschera del demonio) is a 1960 Italian gothic horror film directed by Mario Bava, from a screenplay by Ennio De Concini and Mario Serandrei, based very loosely on Nikolai Gogol’s short story "Viy". The film stars Barbara Steele. It was Bava's directorial debut, although he had helped direct several previous feature films without credit.
The movie was considered unusually gruesome by early 1960s standards and was banned in the UK until 1968 due to its violent content. In the U.S., some of the film's more gory moments were censored by American International Pictures prior to its theatrical release. Despite its minor censorship problems, the film was a worldwide critical and boxoffice hit, and helped initiate successful careers for both Bava and star Steele.
In Moldavia, in the year 1630, beautiful witch Asa Vajda (Steele) and her lover Javuto (Arturo Dominici) are sentenced to death for sorcery by Asa's brother. Before being killed, Asa vows revenge and puts a curse on her brother’s descendants. A metal mask with sharp spikes on the inside is placed over the witch’s face and hammered repeatedly into her flesh.
Two hundred years later, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec (Richardson), are traveling through Moldavia when one of the wheels of their carriage is broken, requiring immediate repair. While waiting for their coachman to fix the wheel, the two wander off into a nearby ancient crypt and discover Asa’s tomb. Observing her death mask through a glass panel, Kruvajan breaks the panel to remove the curious item. Asa's partially preserved corpse is visible underneath, her face staring out malevolently. Kruvajan is attacked by a bat and he cuts his hand on the broken glass. Some of his blood drips onto Asa’s dead face.
Returning outside, Kruvajan and Gorobec meet Katia (also played by Steele). She advises them that she lives with her father, Prince Vajda (Garrani), and brother Constantin (Enrico Oliveiri), in a nearby castle that the villagers all believe is haunted. Gorobec is instantly smitten by the beautiful young woman. The two men then leave her and drive on to an inn.
The witch Asa is brought back to life by Kruvajan’s blood. She telepathically contacts Javuto and orders him to rise from his grave. He does so and heads off to Prince Vajda’s castle, where Vajda holds up a crucifix to ward the reanimated corpse away. However, Vajda is so terrified by the visit that he becomes paralyzed with fear. Katia and Constantin send a servant to fetch Dr. Kruvajan, but the servant is killed before he can reach the inn. It is the evil Javuto who arrives to bring Kruvajan to the castle. Javuto leads Kruvajan to Asa’s crypt, and he watches in horror as her coffin explodes spectacularly. From its ruins, the vampire-witch rises and attacks the doctor, drinking his blood. Under Asa’s command, the now vampiric Kruvajan enters Vajda’s room and murders him.
Asa’s plan is to drain Katia of her blood, believing that this act will grant her immortality. A little girl who had seen Javuto meet Kruvajan at the inn describes the dead man to Gorobec. A priest recognizes the description as being that of Javuto. The priest and Gorobec go to Javuto’s grave and find Kruvajan hiding inside. Realizing that he is a vampire, they immediately kill the fiend by ramming a long wooden stake through one of his eye sockets.
Javuto finds Katia and takes her to Asa. Asa attempts to drink her blood but is thwarted by the crucifix around her neck. Gorobec enters the crypt to save Katia but finds Asa instead. Asa pretends to be Katia and tells Gorobec that the now weakened and unconscious Katia is really the vampire. She tells him to kill Katia immediately by staking her. He agrees but at the last possible moment he notices the crucifix she is wearing. He turns to Asa and opens her robe, revealing a fleshless skeletal frame. The priest then arrives with numerous torch-carrying villagers, and they burn Asa to death. Katia awakens from her stupor, her life and beauty fully restored.