Wednesday, May 9, 2012
YEAR 1960: PRINCESS ASA
I've commented elsewhere that not until the 1950s did American cinema begin to spawn a fair number of femmes formidables, and the same is true for foreign cinema. One of the few non-American films I've referenced thus far was the British CAT GIRL from 1957.
It was the Brits' most noteworthy competitors in horror, the Italians, who ended up spawning not just a particular group of female monsters, but the first actress to become predominantly associated with the marketing of horror, after the fashion of male actors like Karloff, Lugosi, and Price. Ironically, the Italians accomplished this by using a actress born in Great Britain.
A smattering of Italian horror films had preceded 1960's BLACK SUNDAY, but SUNDAY impressed the new decade's audiences with the unique, exotic looks of Barbara Steele. In the film Steele portrays the dual role of Princess Asa, a centuries-dead witch who rises from the grave to avenge herself on the descendants of her murderers, and one of Asa's own descendants, the innocent Katia.
The opening sequence of BLACK SUNDAY-- quite violent for the period-- did a lot toward propelling the film to its fame, but Steele's performance was equally important, conveying the witch's cruelty and sadism with as much skill as she played the guileless innocent.
SUNDAY's only disappointment is that director Mario Bava concentrates so much on well-photographed atmosphere that in the final analysis Princess Asa, despite being a vampire as well as a witch, doesn't really *do* much beyond being evil. But on the strength of that performance Steele made several more noteworthy horror-films-- PIT AND THE PENDULUM, CASTLE OF BLOOD, and NIGHTMARE CASTLE-- a few of which I may cover in future posts