Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 6th, 2015
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 24th, 2015
Approximate running time: 83 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono English
BluRay Release: Kino Lorber
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $19.95
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 25 GB single layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. Contrast levels look very good, shadow details is consistently strong throughout, details look crisp and grain looks natural. There are no issues with DNR or compression and there are some very minor instances of print debris. Though the source used of this transfer is in great shape.
This release comes with one audio option, a DTS-HD mono English. The audio sounds clean, clear, balanced and robust when it needs too.
Extras for this release includes trailers for Black Sunday, Bay of Blood. The Whip and the Body, The House of Exorcism, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Lisa and the Devil and Baron Blood. Also included with this release on the inside covert art is a collection of poster art for the film. Overall the U.S. version of Black Sunday makes its way to Blu-Ray via a strong Hi-Def upgrade from Kino Lorber, recommended.