Shock, M, 87 Mins
The first film properly directed by the late lamented Mario Bava (who also served as cinematographer and uncredited co-writer, as drawing from a novel by Nikolai Gogol), this low-budget but hugely influential and controversial-at-the-time (1960) shocker is best remembered these days for being the first fright flick featuring slightly unwilling English horror icon Barbara Steele, who eventually got tired of it all and eventually stated that she never wanted “to climb out of another fucking coffin again!”
Anyway, Bava’s cult epic opens in 17th Century Moldavia (probably the Cinecitta backlot), where evil Princess Asa (Steele) and her brother Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are executed, and we see Asa have the spiked ‘Mask Of Satan’ hammered onto her face in a sequence that’s less explicit than it sounds but still pretty damn shocking. Cut to two centuries later and we meet a dopey pair of travelling doctors stranded in the countryside, smitten by young Katia Vajda (Steele again as the apparent reincarnation of Asa) and, after fighting off a big silly bat, responsible for the accidental revival of Asa and then Javutich, both of whom rise to exact vampiric B+W revenge.
An admitted influence on so many Gothic-obsessed contemporary directors (Tim Burton seems to shoehorn a reference to it into each of his films), Bava’s pic has certainly stood the test of the time, and today remains eerie and luridly violent, despite the language problems, a threadbare budget, weird logic and dodgy characterisation. But the workaholic Bava didn’t worry about little issues like money and credibility as, to him, his films were all about atmosphere, and here he manages plenty of that, especially when the fearsome and rather feral Steele is onscreen and centre stage.