Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 4th, 2017
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1960
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Mario Bava, Nikolai Gogol, Ennio De Concini, Mario Serandrei
Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri
BluRay released: February 4th, 2013
Approximate running times: 87 minutes (Mask of Satan), 83 minutes (Black Sunday)
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Both Versions)
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: LPCM Mono Italian (Mask of Satan – Italian Version), LPCM Mono English (Black Sunday – European Version), LPCM Mono English (Black Sunday – AIP Version)
Subtitles: English (Italian Version), English SDH (European Version, AIP Version)
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL (UK)
Retail Price: £15.99 (UK)
Synopsis: Three hundred years ago Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) is condemned and burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft. Flash forward to modern day when two doctors en-route to a medical convention stumble upon Princess Asa’s grave which accidentally sets her resurrection in motion. Once reanimated Princess Asa plan’s on taking the place of a woman named Katia Vajda who looks exactly like her.
There are two English language versions of this film, AIP’s North American release which runs about three minutes shorter than the International version of the film which is known under the Mask of Satan title. The majority of the footage that has been excised from AIP’s version are things that were moments deemed too graphic and just like all of Bava’s other film’s that were released AIP a new score has been added in favor of the film’s original score. Also AIP reportedly commissioned a brand new English language score for the film, since they deemed the one that was supplied to them as inadequate. It should be noted that neither of these of these English language versions contain Barbara Steele’s voice.
By the time that Mario Bava had the opportunity to direct Black Sunday. He already had twenty years of experience behind the camera as a cinematographer. A few of the films that he worked on include Hercules, Hercules Unchained and The Day the Sky Exploded. In the years leading up to Black Sunday, he also started several films as a cinematographer only to complete them as a director when the original director exited the film. Two of these film’s I vampire and Caltiki, the Immortal Monster foreshadow his work within the Horror film genre.
When it comes to an opening scene for a Horror film one would be hard pressed to name a sequence more terrifying then the opening scene for Black Sunday. The aforementioned scene revolves around a woman named Asa who has been accused and simultaneously condemned for being a witch. Her persecutors then brand her by burning the letting ‘S’ into her flesh. After that they then put a spiked mask over her face and nail it down as blood gushes out of the sides of the mask. And to finish her off they attempt to burn her at the stake. Needless to say this is a scene that leaves little for the imagination. With it’s in your face depiction of violence that firmly establishes the tone of the film.
Besides Nikolai Gogol’s short story ‘Viy’ which Black Sunday was loosely adapted from, another clear inspirations are the films of Hammer and Universal classic monster films, most notably their Gothic themed ones. And when it comes to visuals there is never a shortage of atmosphere in Black Sunday. And visually there is not a moment wasted as every inch of every frame are exploited for maximum effect, especially Bava’s rendering of light and shadow. Another area where this film excels are its special effects, most notably during the reanimation sequence during the film’s final moments.
The performances range from good to great. With this most memorable performance coming from Barbara Steele (The Ghost, Nightmare Castle, The Long Hair of Death) in the dual role of Katia Vajda and Princess Asa Vajda. She is mesmerizing in both roles as she delivers what is widely considered the best performance of her career. Another performance of note is Andrea Checchi (The Assassin, A Bullet for the General) in the role of an inquisitive Doctor named Thomas Kruvajan, who moment of indiscretion leads to Asa’s resurrection. Ultimately Black Sunday is an extraordinary Horror film that ushered in a new era of terror in Italy cinema and the magnitude of its legacy continues to shape the landscape of Horror cinema.
Black Sunday comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. Both version of this film are presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. The transfer for the version titled Mask of Satan is on par with the transfer that was used for the Kino Lorber’s region A Blu-Ray release and the difference between two transfers included as part of this release is that the version titled Black Sunday has slightly stronger contrast levels and image clarity.
This release comes with three audio options, a LPCM audio mix in Italian and two different LPCM English language audio mixes. All of the audio mixes are in good shape, dialog comes through clearly and everything sounds balanced and the more ambient aspects of the soundtracks are well represented. Subtitles options include, English for the Italian language version titled Mask of Satan and English SDH subtitles for the English language version titled Black Sunday. It should also be noted that the AIP English language audio mix features a different score then the other audio mixes.
Extras for this release include, the International theatrical trailer for the film (3 minutes 35 seconds), the U.S. theatrical for the film (2 minutes 12 seconds), the Italian theatrical trailer for the film (3 minutes 27 seconds, in Italian with English subtitles), a T.V. spot for the film (22 seconds), a deleted scene from the Italian version with notes by Tim Lucas (3 minutes 32 seconds, in Italian with English subtitles), an introduction to the film by author and critic Alan Jones (2 minutes 52 seconds), an interview with actress Barbara Steele (8 minutes 44 seconds, in Italian with English subtitles) and an audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas.
Topics discussed in the interview with Barbara Steele include, how she is not aware of the reason why Mario Bava cast her, how powerful the first five minute of the film are, her thoughts about the character she portrayed and Horror cinema.
Topics discussed in the audio commentary track include, Mario Bava’s original version of the film verse the AIP version of the film, filmmakers and films influenced by this film, composer Roberto Nicolosi and his score the Italian version of the film, Mario Bava’s contributions to I Vampirir and Caltiki, the Immortal Monster, Barbara Steele, the cast and information about them, other production related topics and his thoughts about the film. It should be noted that the audio commentary plays only with the Mask of Satan version of the film.
Other extras include, a bonus feature film also directed by Mario Bava tilted I Vampiri (81 minutes 18 seconds, in Italian with English subtitles), a trailer for I Vampiri under the alternate titled The Devil’s Commandment (1 minute 39 seconds) and a Mario Bava trailer Reel (54 minutes 2 seconds, in English and Italian with English subtitles) and the trailer include are (Mask of Satan) Black Sunday, Hercules in the Haunted World, Erik the Conquer, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, The Whip and the Body, Blood and Black Lace, Road to Fort Alamo, Planet of the Vampires, Knives of the Avenger, Kill, Baby… Kill!, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, Danger: Diabolik, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Five Dolls for an August Moon, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, Carnage (Twitch of the Death Nerve), Baron Blood, Four Times That Night, Lisa and the Devil, Rabid Dogs and Shock.
Rounding out the extras are reversible cover art and a thirty-two-page booklet that contains cast & crew information for Black Sunday and I Vampiri, an interview with Barbara Steele and two essays – the first essay titled Black Sunday written by Matt Bailey and the second essay titled I Vampiri. Other content included in this booklet includes, director Riccardo Freda’s comments on I Vampiri and Mario Bava. Also included with this release are two DVD’s. The first DVD contains both versions of the film and all of the extra related to Black Sunday. The second DVD contains I Vampiri and all of the extra related to that film and the Mario Bava Trailer Reel. Overall another solid release from Arrow Video that is on part content and quality wise with their other Mario Bava releases.
I Vampiri Screenshots