R | Action/Adventure, Drama, Horror
Generally considered to be the foremost example of Italian Gothic horror, this darkly atmospheric black-and-white chiller put director Mario Bava on the international map and made the bewitching Barbara Steele a star. Steele plays Princess Asa, a high priestess of Satan who is gruesomely executed in 1600s Moldavia by having a spiked mask hammered into her face. Before she dies, Asa vows revenge on the family who killed her and returns from the grave two centuries later to keep her promise. In a striking resurrection scene replete with bats, scorpions and fog, Asa rises from the tomb to claim her bloody vengeance. With vampires, bubbling flesh, dank crypts, undead servants and torch-bearing mobs, the plot is a little ripe, but the visuals are Bava's primary consideration. The atmosphere is so heavy and the imagery so dense that the film becomes nearly too rich in texture, but the sheer, ghastly beauty of it all is entrancing. Although this was only the second of Bava's twenty-six films as director, it is undoubtedly his best and the one upon which most of his considerable reputation rests.