Saturday, October 6th
"Black Sunday" AKA "The Mask of Satan"
Part of the genesis of Andrew Watches Movies was to find films that were overlooked, stuck in a cinematic blindspot. That is the reason for the weekly wheel assignment. For those who are not familiar, that is a segment on the podcast where films that have been overlooked by me, Jess, or the viewing public at large are placed on a prize wheel, which is spun to give the assignment for the week. A couple of the films on our 31 Films of Halloween list are located in the blindspot for Jess and I, "Black Sunday" being the first of these.
Aside from Dario Argento's, I am woefully unaware of the Italian horror film library. This is probably a miscalculation on my part, since "Suspiria" and "Deep Red" are two of my favorite horror films of all time. If Italy can produce two films like that, there have to be many more out there. "Demons" which is streaming on Shudder, which might have been directed by every single Italian director of all time, is also a really good one to get a feel of that country's contribution to the genre. Another director who is considered a "master" who is a blindspot for Jess and I is Mario Bava, and that is something we are going to change this Halloween season.
The first one from Bava on our list is "Black Sunday" AKA "The Mask of Satan" from 1960. I'm pretty partial to the title "The Mask of Satan" since it's more descriptive of the story, and ends up the only title given at the beginning of the film, but "Black Sunday" is the more common title for finding the film. This seems to be very common for Italian horror films, many of them being retitled many times. This film can be found on Shudder, and kicks off the weekend right. This reminds me of the horror classics that I found on TV Saturday afternoons on TNT and TBS, though I didn't remember the imagery in this one. It did remind me of a music video I'd seen at some point, but I can't place which one.
Even though this is a black and white film, this one feels like one from the beginning of the modern horror age. There is blood in the violence, overt sexuality, and content that is actually scary. The level of gore is set up in the cold open of the film when the mask from the title is used on a woman accused of vampirism/witchcraft. Jess and I actually both let out groans when the spikes on the device were shown, this film isn't pulling it's punches from the very start.
Bava comes out of the gate boldly mashing different mythologies from past horror films together in a way that reminded me of Tarantino. This isn't just Vampires as it starts out as, it's Witches, and Zombies as well. There are even heroic characters that remind me of those in films past like Van Helsing in the Dracula series. The other Italian films I've been treated to aren't afraid of taking elements from other films either, especially the film "Demons". Like the French New Wave did with American Gangster films, this seems like an homage with the blending of elements, especially since the films are in english for the most part. I don't know why, but that surprises me every time. I even thought "Daughters of Darkness" during the Joe Bob Briggs marathon was going to be subtitled. It wasn't, and that's another Italian film that should be checked out by those who enjoy "Black Sunday"
Besides still holding up pretty well today, "Black Sunday" was part of a banner year for Horror around the world, and film moving away from being sanitized and bloodless on the screen. In the US, films were subject to a censorship code that was quickly becoming less restrictive in 1960. America, you had Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho", England had "Peeping Tom" from Michael Powell, France had one of my favorites with "Eyes Without a Face"; Bava's film belongs right along all the rest of them, a masterpiece of early modern horror.
"Masters of Horror Homecoming"
Joe Dante's chapter of the series, "Homecoming" let's loose a fury of political satire. Joe Dante has always been great with the visual effects as the director of the "Gremlins" movies, "The Burbs", and the first "Howling" film. "The Howling" features a transformation scene that rivals "American Werewolf in London", which is a huge compliment for his early career. Everyone loves Gizmo and the rest of the Gremlins, both films are great achievements in physical effects and animatronics. Dante's talents are utilized very well in this chapter of the anthology series.
"Homecoming" finds the nation in an extremely unpopular war, much like we were in 2005 when this episode originally aired. A Presidential Aide is on a talk show, speaking with the mother of a fallen soldier. He has a moment of inspiration where he lets his eyes almost well up with tears, wishes that her son could come back to let them know his opinion on the war, and that he would echo how important everything going on is. The President is so moved that he borrows the story for a stump speech, and ends up giving the dead an invitation that they take from him; to return on the next election day to voice their opinion.
The film is an excellent satire on how we love to project our feelings onto those who have fallen while protecting our country. When the answer of the dead doesn't match up with the agenda of those in power, they try to find a way to twist the message to fit their own. This...this is a terrible idea to try on zombies. The dead soldiers will only be pushed so far before they bring a full on apocalypse on everyone.
Political satire is not new ground for Dante. Gremlins can easily be viewed as a satire of "White Flight" from the Urban environment to the Suburbs. Pretty much everyone in that town is extremely milquetoast, the stereotypical characters you'd find in any suburban film with inspiration from "A Christmas Carol", with a Scrooge type character and all. Dante has even said the sequel is a satire of real estate developers like...ahem... Donald Trump. I wasn't surprised at how pointed the satire in Homecoming was, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.