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Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri
Length: 83 min
Label: Kino Lorber
Release Date: Feb 24, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
- Theatrical trailers from Mario Bava films
It’s fair to say that post-1960 cult cinema would be vastly different without director and cinematographer Mario Bava. His catalog covers a wide range of genres, including fantasy, peplum, spy spoofs, historical drama, action epics, Viking films and spaghetti westerns. He also helmed a number of classic horror films, including some genre forerunners, effectively creating both the slasher and the Italian giallo film. Though he co-directed a number of Riccardo Freda’s films, including the first Italian horror sound film, I, Vampiri (1956), Bava’s first solo endeavor was The Mask of Satan (1960), more widely known as Black Sunday. The original European version of this classic film about witchcraft, satanism, and resurrection has already been released on Blu-ray by both Kino Lorber in the USA, and by Arrow Films in the UK (the UK release also contains the re-edited/re-dubbed/re-scored A.I.P. version). Now, Kino Lorber is releasing the A.I.P. version in the USA, in a separate Blu-ray release.
Bava’s stunning directorial debut stars Barbara Steele, John Richardson and Arturo Dominici. Loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Vij,” this is one of the finest gothic horror efforts from any period. In the 1600s, Moldavian princess Asa Vajda is tortured and burned alive by her own brother for witchcraft, satanism, and vampirism. In revenge, she curses their family line with her dying breath. Two hundred years later, Kruvajan and the young Gorobek, a pair of skeptical doctors traveling to a conference, accidentally revive Asa when their coach breaks down outside her mausoleum. Asa soon possesses Kruvajan, determined to destroy the Vajda family and drain the blood of her identical descendant, Katia, to gain immortality. Gorobek, who has fallen in love with Katia, is desperate to prevent this.Building off his mentor Riccardo Freda’s efforts in I, Vampiri, Bava blends the shadowy expressionism of Universal Studios horror and the gothic splendor of Britain’s Hammer Studios to create a unique masterpiece. Stark black and white cinematography captures swirling fog, crumbling crypts and medieval castles, using gothic tropes to their best effect. Bava’s technical effects were ahead of their time, depicting graphic shots of witch burning, desiccated corpses reanimating and rising from the grave, a mask hammered onto a woman’s face and a stake through the eyeball (Bava’s unique take on vampire legend). The Mask of Satan also introduced genre fans to the iconic Barbara Steele. Her distinctive beauty marked most of the major Italian horror efforts of the period—Freda’s The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962), Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood (1964), Mario Caiano’s Nightmare Castle (1965), etc. Her depiction of the evil Asa and the innocent Katia represents some of the themes Bava would return to throughout his career – the illusory, often treacherous nature of appearances and the troubling effects of sexuality.
A quick comparison of Kino Lorber’s new release of the A.I.P. version of Black Sunday with Arrow’s 2013 UK release shows them to have been transferred from the same HD master. That’s a good thing, because, even though this is not a pristine restoration, it’s still an excellent one, with the film looking better than it has in any previous DVD release. Contrast is sharp, but the grayscale gradation is excellent too, revealing much more subtlety than before. Film grain is present, and there are no signs of edge sharpening. Age-related artifacts, such as tiny scratches and white specs do show up, but they are not distracting and fit very nicely into the look of vintage 35mm film.
The LPCM 2.0 English audio track is unremarkable, but does the job very nicely. It’s clear, and has enough amplitude to project Lex Baxter’s colorful music score. The dialog is very easy to follow.
The one flaw in this release is the very stingy extra features, which consist only of a handful of trailers from other Mario Bava films, though the trailers themselves are entertaining enough to dip into.
Though the A.I.P version of Black Sunday is cut down to 83 minutes from the film’s original length of 87 minutes, it’s worth watching in its own terms, as the soundtrack is different from the original, and creates a different effect. US viewers who want this version need not hesitate, as Kino Lorber’s new release is very satisfactory on technical grounds. “You will never escape my vengeance, or Satan’s!”