No, today’s Killtoberfest movie is not the one about the terrorists trying to blow up the Super Bowl (man, did y’all know that’s the only thing Thomas Harris ever wrote that didn’t have Hannibal Lector in it? BUT I DIGRESS).
No, this is the 1960’s Mario Bava movie, and it plays like the classic Universal Monster Movie that time forgot (and also made kind of weird and badass).
This wasn’t bad, though. It’s shot in nice, rich, black and white (although poorly dubbed). The theatricality of the sets gives it a pleasant Halloween-y spooky feel. Bats, crypts, creepy old castles.
The plot never really tops its opener, which is a real doozy and powers much of the rest of the film: a pair of accused witches (vampires? the movie never figures out which) are brutally murdered for their alleged crimes by way of “the mask of Satan” (the original title of the film), an ornate iron mask the inside of which is filled with vicious spikes. Before dying, the female, Asa, vows vengeance. Two centuries later, she’s accidentally set free by a pair of bumbling academics and proceeds to fuck shit up.
So now we have what is basically Dracula: a supernatural figure uses deception, persuasion, and all manner of creepy shenanigans in order to destroy a group of aristocrats. The key difference here is that Asa probably deserves her revenge–the sins of the ancestors being visited upon the wealthy old patriarch descendants. So the movie becomes something of a slasher where you don’t feel bad about rooting for the bad guy, at least until a late-stage romance subplot takes over the narrative.
This is all fairly standard stuff, and as I said before, feels like a throwback to the monster movies of the 30s. Besides the switch in allegiances (which may just be my particular sensibilities, to be fair), what sets this apart from those films is a trend towards the outre as well as the classic. I’ve mentioned the chilling mask; additionally there’s a lot of sublimated necrophilia going on here, with Asa the corpse seducing men into doing her bidding. There’s not many ways to interpret a kiss for the dead (now there’s a horror movie title). Touches like this give the movie a real sense of eeriness–as do the many fairy-tale aspects, from the distinct rulesets for dealing with vamps/witches to the foggy rural landscape where the dead show up with ornate coaches to spirit you away. The hero of the story is even motivated by the love of a princess, who in turn is mirrored by Princess Asa. Altogether the movie’s luscious visuals (and crap audio) and familiar yet unfamiliar story contribute to a very dreamlike feeling.
It’s hard to say everything that’s going on thematically (the movie could be an allegory for 1960s Italian politics, for all I know, or it could just be a flight of fancy), but the production values are luscious enough that it’s probably worth a look, particularly if you’re into the ’30s Universal style of horror pictures. As for me, I’ll keep an eye out for a Hammer version.