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July 26, 2010

Random Horror Throwdown: Black Sunday vs. Village of the Damned

Welcome, Midnight Warriors, to 1960...the year of the STARE. In one corner is Italian maestro Mario Bava with what most consider his "masterpiece" - Black Sunday. In the other, Director Wolf Rilla teams with George Sanders and a pack of creepy albinos for Village of the Damned. It's entirely worth mentioning that this throwdown could have been between the 1977 blimp-versus-Super Bowl thriller Black Sunday and the 1995 John Carpenter helmed remake of Village of the Damned. In that case, this matchup would have sucked.


(OK, Stop staring. You'll go blind.)

The Movies: Black Sunday (1960, Dir. by Mario Bava.)
Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi.
IMDB Synopsis: A vengeful witch and her fiendish servant return from the grave and begin a bloody campaign to possess the body of the witch's beautiful look-alike descendant. Only the girl's brother and a handsome doctor stand in her way. (Note from The Mike: I LOVE when actresses play dual roles as evil and good. Bava made a mistake in his Erik the Conqueror, because he cast real twins as twins. Why pay twice for something that's the same?)

Village of the Damned (1960, Dir. by Wolf Rilla.)
Starring: George Sanders, Barbara Shelley, Martin Stephens.
IMDB Synopsis: In the small English village of Midwich everybody and everything falls into a deep, mysterious sleep for several hours in the middle of the day. Some months later every woman capable of child-bearing is pregnant and the children that are born out of these pregnancies seem to grow very fast and they all have the same blond hair and strange, penetrating eyes that make people do things they don't want to do. (Note from The Mike: My parents let me watch too much of the Playboy Channel as a teen. Thus, I'll never not find the phrase "penetrating eyes" (or any use of the penetrating word) funny.)

The Plots:
Witches are a blast, man. Especially in a Barbara Steele manner. Now, I love The Wizard of Oz with a passion, and that Wicked Witch is pretty ridiculously awesome....but in this case, the witch is fantastically scary. And, since it's Barbara Steele...kinda hot. But, like Suspiria later, this is one of those horror films that is really a style-over-substance thing. Village of the Damned is a plot I love. Possible extra-terrestrial involvement from the start, creepy kids, commentary on human nature....just a blast of cool ideas. I have to give it the point. (1-0, Village of the Damned leads.)

The Directors:
This one's a windmill, tongue-out, slam dunk. I don't know anything about Wolf Rilla. I keep misspelling his name as Wolf Rolla, probably because I think he's like that Rock'n'rolla movie mixed with werebeasts. To put his career in perspective, this film has over 4,300 votes on IMDB. Rilla's next most popular film, Cairo (apparently a remake of The Asphalt Jungle?) has 88 votes.

Mario kind of a king. I mean, he kinda invented Italian horror. Argento may be the subgenre's poster child, but Bava INVENTED it. (Well, at least according to us Americans who like to revise other countries' histories as they're relevant to us, that is. And can we really call Italian horror a subgenre? Is it a racegenre? A geogrogenre, maybe?)

Whatever. Bava and Black Sunday get the point. (1-1.)

The Casts:
If you were ever to walk up to me, or perhaps comment on my blog, and ask "Hey The Mike, who's the most amazing actor of all-time that no one ever seems to talk about?", my answer would DEFINITELY be George Sanders. He's absolutely, positively, one of the best character actors of all-time. Just go rent All About Eve and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Rebecca and Man Hunt (ahhhhh, especially Man Hunt, he's so freakin' a good Nazi!), and then come back here and tell me he's not awesome. I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU!

I love Barbara Steele too, but Sanders is too awesome. And, Village of the Damned features Martin Stephens as his evil son, who would go on to be ubercreepy in The Innocents and win the "All-Time Creepy Child" Championship. So I HAVE to give the point to Village of the Damned. (2-1, Village of the Damned leads.)

(By the way, here Sanders plays Gordon Zellaby. Best character name ever?)

The Moods:
This, to me, is where Village of the Damned slips. Those kids are creepy, it's true. But then the whole "think of a brick wall" thing happens and...for whatever reason, it seems a little silly to me. Sanders has a few moments of being over the top while dealing with the silly aspects of the plot (but is still totally awesome), and the film seems to get a little off-track despite its short runtime.

Black Sunday, though about 10 minutes longer than Village of the Damned, seems to be a tighter flick. Its haunting stares, particularly from Ms. Steele, are completely penetrating (teehee!), and definitely creepy. And the music! Oh, it's gorgeous. I have to give the moodiness points to Black Sunday (2-2.)

My History With The Films:
This is an incredibly tough category to call. I've never really called either of these films a "favorite" horror film, but I definitely have always respected them both greatly. Normally, when I start one of these Throwdowns, I have an idea as to which film will come out a winner, based entirely on a gut feeling. Right now, my gut seems a little confused.

John Carpenter has long been my favorite director not named Hitchcock, and I will absolutely admit that I saw his version of Village of the Damned (a remake that looked fantastic to 14-year-old The Mike) long before the original film hit DVD and became available to me. So I've always had trouble getting past that crappy remake when thinking about the original film. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if the silliness I attribute to the plot is because of how silly the remake was.

On the other hand, Bava's Black Sunday was long a "must find" movie for me. It wasn't until my sister graduated from college in Connecticut (while I was stuck via plane in Chicago during a storm and missed the festivities and following trip to NYC), that my parents kindly brought a DVD of it (and a Leatherface bobblehead doll which totally still watches me as I sleep) home to me. I must admit that I was not initially infatuated with the film - hype was cruel to it - but have grown to dig it greatly with time.

This Decision is Like:

I'm completely rambling. Because, when I started this Throwdown, I had absolutely no idea which of these films I would pick. I kind of felt like I wanted to pick Village of the Damned, just because it's less talked about and I love George Sanders, but at the same time I couldn't imagine not honoring the tradition of Bava and Steele and the technical mastery shown in Black Sunday.
Isn't there an REO Speedwagon song about this? Do I follow my head, or follow my heart? I quite think there is.....

Is 90% George Sanders enough to overcome 100% Bava?, it isn't. Were this any of the George Sanders flicks I mentioned earlier, I'd give it the win. But Black Sunday eeks out the final point. (3-2, Black Sunday wins.)

(Note from The Mike: I hate tooting my own horn, difficult as this was...I had a blast writing it. Hope it makes some kind of sense to you!)


Emily said...

Great throwdown!! I love how many similarities those two posters have! Very creepy!

Village of the Damned probably would have won this battle for me, although I highly respect Black Sunday. I found the story of Village of the Damned more compelling I suppose, and those kids as soooooo creepy! The remake does cloud things a bit though- man I really did not like that movie sadly, and so whenever I think about Village of the Damned I have to block out Christopher Reeve's face.

AE said...

Yes indeed, an excellent throwdown! I reviewed both these movies for the LA Times Daily Mirror blog (here) and was also struck by the similarly-themed posters.

As someone yet uncorrupted by the John Carpenter remake of "Damned," I think "Black Sunday" still has the edge. Barbara Shelley is one sultry mama, but Barbara Steele is a screaming fox!

The movies also have such different temperaments -- one is all swooning and staking and shrieking Italian madness, and the other is all dry, practical British good sense. The dry tone of "Damned" does almost make the subject matter more chilling -- and it's certainly a much, much sadder movie. But I think you're right about the brick-wall bit. In the end that's not an image that can really carry the day, not like a hissing Barbara Steele being executed for the umpteenth time.

Will Errickson said...

I dig this style of pitting two classics that seem so different from on another. I wholeheartedly agree that Bava's film comes out ahead.

Anonymous said...

Clearly I'm late to this dialogue .... And unsophisticated in horror films and entirely unqualified to comment.. Black Sunday haunted me for years. I had to look in my closet and under my bed before going to sleep all through grade school and middle school because one night my sister decided to hide next to my bed at when I went to sleep. I turned over and she popped her head up and her face in the dark was a dead ringer for the witch from the movie. I was much too young to have seen it but it had enduring impact on me! Perhaps I need to find a copy of both films and judge tham as an adult. If by chance anyone sees this post and knows scii fi films I'm trying to find one and maybe you can help. What I recall is a plot that included people shuffling as they walked because they believed if they lifted their feet they would leave the earth - or something like that! It's foggy to me because I saw it so long ago. Know this film?!