Archive for September 22nd, 2010
Mario Bava’s first film as director is this beautifully created adoption of The Viy by Nikolai Gogol, a Russian Gothic tale of witchcraft and vampirism. The plot is a classic revenge tale. A witch and her lover, after being caught and tried for dabbling with the devil, they are encased in a metal mask, with big spikes on the inside which penetrates deep into the skull. Entombed in an open coffin with a cross visible, just in case. But the Witch has one last curse before they are condemned, she will be back to haunt the family forever.
Some many years later, a pair of fops break down in their chariot and explore the landscape whilst the poor driver tries to sort out the wheel. They discover the tomb and for some crazy reason, remove the mask, in doing so, slicing his skin and dripping some blood on the Witch. That’s all it takes and she’s back for revenge intent on replacing herself as a new distant relative who is a very close doppelganger. (Both played by the tremendous Barbara Steele)
Bava has a perfect cinematographers eye and this film works because of it. It’s beautifully filmed, sharp and crystal clear, yet dreamlike and shadowy with wispy smoke and dark corners with creepy characters hiding along corridors and cellars. A real scene is set from the opening scene and carried through to the end which has been done before with other films from it’s period by other directors in other countries, but non can claim the full rounded collective of artistic cinematography, great building of atmosphere as the plot matures, quality actors who need little in the way of direction and a classic gothic story to hold the thing together. On top of this, we have some real shocking scenes which seem harsher in black and white. The mask being nailed in Princess Asa’s (the Witch played by Steele) face is a real shocker and later on in the film, when she lifts her cloak to expose a rotting corpse is really successful. There is some other amazing makeup effects. An aging scene with Katia (Steele) is quality and I’m still not quite sure how this was pulled off. It’s traditional theatrical makeup, but it’s completed so smooth with no real loss of frames or choppiness.
Bava’s first outing is a great film. I’m looking forward to a bit more this week to see how well he matures.