• Black Sunday



    Released by: Kino
    Released on: September 18, 2012.

    Director: Mario Bava

    Cast: Barbara Steele, Andrea Checchi, John Richardson, Arturo Dominici

    Year: 1960

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    The Movie:


    When this masterpiece of gothic horror begins, an accused witch named Katia Vajda (Barbara Steele) has the Mask Of Satan pounded onto her face before she's burned at the stake. As she's about to be burnt the skies open up and the rain pours down. Though she is killed, her body does not burn and is instead laid to rest in a coffin with a cross on top to ensure that her evil dies with her corpse. Before she passes, however, she swears she will destroy the Vajda family responsible for her execution.


    Two hundred years later, a pair of travelers - Doctor Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant Gorobec (John Richardson) – find an old tomb while exploring the woods near the road where their carriage has become stranded. As the coachman is making the repairs, they inadvertently spill some blood on the tomb inside, which of course is where Katia was laid to rest. What they don’t realize is that with this simple act, she has been resurrected. Meanwhile, a beautiful girl who turns out to be Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele again) shows up. Katia's ghost, with the help of her trusty man servant (Arturo Dominici), attempts to possess Asa's body so that she can fulfill her promise and kill off Asa's father, Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani) and therefore fulfill the promise she made centuries ago.


    Widely considered one of Bava's best pictures and a milestone in Italian gothic horror, Black Sunday (also known as The Mask Of Satan, which is the title we see in the opening credits on this release) is a fantastic exercise in mood, atmosphere and suspense. A few remarkably sinister set pieces punctuate the film (Katia's initial death scene and her subsequent resurrection both stand out as hallmarks of the macabre) and the creepy black and white cinematography really captures the macabre atmosphere of the many more subtle moments in the film. Small details in the set design, the lighting, the effects and the backgrounds all work together to enrich the tone that Bava has created here and the results are visually stunning and completely satisfying.


    While the supporting cast is adequate, it's Barbara Steele who really makes this picture. In an interesting double role she's an eerie amalgamation of all things sexy and sinister and the clever cinematography really does an amazing job of accentuating her piercing dark eyes and distinctive features to the point that the audience can completely buy her in the role. There are some quirks in the storyline where it slows down a little more than it has to or where maybe things feel a little forced but the movie just looks so fantastic and makes such excellent use of its leading lady that it's more difficult to concentrate on the film's small flaws then to simply bask in the imagery.


    The version of the movie included on this disc is the English language European version that appears with the on screen title of Mask Of Satan. American International Pictures distributed this film in North America and when they did, the film was dubbed and the original Roberto Nicolesi score was replaced with a very different one from Les Baxter. It would have been nice to see the Italian language option presented here along with the European English track rather than the hybrid that we get here (which takes the Italian score and puts the European English dubbing over top of it), even if that hybrid does more or less constitute the best of both worlds (Steele is obviously speaking English). For completions sake fans certainly would have appreciated having the two original mixes included for the film, and it would have been nice to have the alternate AIP version included as well with the alternate score, but MGM is holding onto that one, seemingly without any intentions of letting it go.


    Additionally, the missing scene that includes dialogue between Asa and her father that appeared on the Italian DVD release that was not included in the Image or Anchor Bay releases is missing from this release as well. In Kino’s defense, the same issue relates to the previous DVD releases as well. So does the Blu-ray debut offer an upgrade? Read on…


    Video/Audio/Extras:


    Black Sunday debuts on Blu-ray from Kino in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen, the proper aspect ratio for the picture. This is a nice improvement over previous standard definition presentations of the film as it contains noticeably more depth and detail than older DVD releases have been able to provide. Contrast looks very solid here and black levels stay strong. The whites never bloom or look too hot while detail and texture show a lot more than we’ve seen previously on home video. Some minor print damage shows up here and there, a few small scratches and some specks, particularly in the opening scenes but overall the image is pretty clean. There are no signs of edge enhancement, noise reduction or compression artifacts to complain about and the upgrade in picture quality this release offers is considerable.


    The only audio option for the disc is an LPCM 2.0 Mono track and, as stated earlier, it is the English language version – no alternate language options or subtitles are provided. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are properly balanced. There aren’t any issues with hiss or distortion and for an older mono dubbed mix, the audio here sounds just fine. The score contains a bit more punch than it had on DVD, which is nice, and it manages to do so without burying the dialogue.


    The main supplement for this release is the audio commentary from Tim Lucas, which has been carried over from the previous region one release from Image Entertainment. Lucas points out the differences between this uncut version and the AIP version, he covers the differences in the musical scores as well. He also covers the symbolism of how much of the film takes place in ruins, a state that Rome found itself in after the Second World War. He explains the film's popularity, talks about how Barbara Steele came onboard for the film, and other casting choices. He covers the importance of Barbara Steele's eyes as well as what was shot where, pointing significant little background details and explaining things that you might not catch the first time around. It's a well thought out and detailed commentary track that covers all of the bases you'd expect it to. If you haven’t heard it before, it is a track well worth listening to and if you have, it’s actually worth revisiting.


    Aside from that, other extras on the Black Sunday Blu-ray include the U.S. theatrical trailer, the international theatrical trailer, a television promo spot, and trailers for four other Bava films – Hatchet For The Honeymoon, Lisa And The Devil, House Of Exorcism and Baron Blood.


    The Final Word:


    Black Sunday remains a high point in the history of not only Italian horror films but cinema in general. The film is a masterpiece of atmosphere and macabre style and remains a beautifully made picture that still has the power to entrance. Steele’s career making performance has rightfully been pegged as one of her best and if Kino’s Blu-ray doesn’t offer anything new in terms of extras or alternate versions, it does provide a substantial audio and video upgrade over what we’ve seen before.

    Click on the images below for super creepy screen caps (some of which contain spoilers)!