For his directing debut, Italian cinematographer Mario Bava took Gogol’s Russian ghost story The Vij, cast British starlet Barbara Steele as the soul-snatching witch Asa and shot the whole grisly tale of vengeance from beyond the grave in stunning black and white.
Travelling to a medical congress, Dr Kruvajan comes across the family tomb of Princess Asa, a 17th-century witch who had been burned at the stake 200 years before.
The evil woman is brought to life by a drop of the doctor’s blood, and she hatches a murderous plot to replace Princess Katia, her beautiful descendant and exact double.
A masterpiece of the macabre that showed Bava’s sheer mastery of the terror medium, The Mask Of Satan had censors worldwide up in arms over its still powerful opening torture sequence, in which a mask of nails is hammered onto Steele’s screaming face.
Steele launched an entire career playing vamps, vampires and victims on the strength of her impact in this atmospheric stunner.
Dr Andrej Gorobek