Horror is strange, as subjective a thing as humour or music. But when someone gets it right, it becomes an inspired thing. People say that Tod Browning saw beauty in horror. Mario Bava's La Maschera del demonio (also known as Black Sunday) was based upon Nicholai Gogol's short story, reworking the folk tale The Viy. And Bava was fortunate in having the most remarkable actress in Britain's almost unnaturally beautiful Barbara Steele to play the role of the witch Katia Vajda.
If Barbara Steele was not an actress of ability and presence, and Bava's film had not exuded mood and atmosphere, probably it would have disappeared after a time - it has to be admitted that the story lacks a little in pace, and perhaps the script didn't translate too well from the Italian. But the film had horror, opening with Steele's witch having a mask nailed to her face before being burned alive, and the atmosphere has rarely been equalled, with a mist-shrouded graveyard and a castle riddled with secret passages.
And most of all, it had Barbara Steele, who without question became instantly the Queen of all Scream Queens. One tagline read:
And no one ever had eyes that could fascinate like those of Barbara Steele.
And - which is perhaps more important - few others share her affinity with gothic horror and the power women's sexuality plays in it.Roger B Pile