Black Sunday AKA La Maschera Del Demonio AKA The Mask Of Satan (1960)
R0 - Italy - Ripley's Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (1st January 2006).
The Film

There´s so much written about the Italian director and cinematographer Mario Bava, that it´s actually quiet hard to find anything more to say. It has to be said right from the start, though, that he´s the undisputed master of Italian horror cinema and a director that still, even after his death, will influence filmmakers all around the world. Perhaps his greatest quality, the imaginative visual eye, has brought many memorable scenes onto the screen and his films have shaped the world of horror movies right down to the present day.

Mario Bava started as a cinematographer and special effects artist, following his fathers footsteps. During the 1950s, Bava worked as an assistant director, also finishing a couple of films when the original director left from the production. It was the year 1960 when Bava directed his first feature film by himself, and that was “La Maschera Del Demonio”, also known as “Black Sunday” and “The Mask Of Satan” (amongst some other names). It was an instant classic, and also the foundation stone for the strong legacy that Bava left for the world of cinema, especially the horror one.

“Black Sunday” is an old fashion gothic horror tale (based on a Russian short story), where the unforgettable opening scenes pretty much sum the mood for the rest of the film. Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and her servant Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are condemned to death for witchcraft and worshipping Satan himself. Their death will come in the form of spiked masks that are placed to their faces, and only one heavy blow to the mask is needed to cause horrible death. Before her death Asa will curse her relatives and family name, since the main inquisitor is her brother. Her body is placed in the burial crypt.

Now fast forward a couple of hundred years ahead, where Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his younger assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) are on their way to a medical conference, when the wheel of their horse carriage breaks down. While it´s being fixed, the men wander into the forest and find the same ancient crypt where the body of Asa is buried (amongst some others), still laying there with the mask on. As in any respectable gothic horror film, a big bat suddenly attacks Dr. Kruvajan, and in the process of killing it he accidentally breaks the window of Asa´s burial casket. Dr. Kruvajan also hurts his hand, and so it goes that a few drops of blood will spill onto the face of Asa, and yes, she will come back to life once again, thinking of revenge.

“Black Sunday” is in many ways an exceptional movie. It resurrects (no pun intended) the great moments and general feel of the Universal horror-movies from the 1930s-1940s, but at the same time it delivers many unique aspects, like very strong visual images by Bava, some more “modern” shocking horror aspects, and perhaps also some sexuality. Although there were films like “I Vampiri (1956)” already made in Italy, “Black Sunday” is probably the prime example of the Italian gothic horror cinema, which started in full force after the war, by the hands of the directors like Bava, Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti. The film is shot in glorious black & white, which obviously makes some things different when compared to the colour films. You can´t create images with colours, but rather with lights, shadows, and their contrasts only, and you have to also think about the textures of the actors clothes and settings more carefully, since there has to be a different shade of black and white in the film. Lightning is very important, and Bava (who´s also the cinematographer of the film) does a great job with his camera movements and visual images, and although the actors are very good, you could say that the visual imagery is the “main star” of the film, making the film haunting and beautiful, yet dark and gloomy. Every camera movement is executed with perfection and smoothness, clearly by the hand of a very skillful person. Only a few sudden “zooms” interrupt the flow of these images, but that seems to be the style of the director.

When the story moves ahead and the older Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani) and his daughter Katia (also played by Barbara Steele) and son Constantine (Enrico Olivieri) are introduced, it´s clear that this is the family which will lay under the wrath of the resurrected Asa. From now on, the settings like the old castle, its catacombs, and dark forests, dominate the film, and good and evil will clash once again in one of the most remembered films in horror film history. Composer Roberto Nicolosi delivers a powerful score, and from this film actress Barbara Steele started her journey into the one of the most celebrated actresses in Italian horror cinema. Her dark beauty and strong presence are indeed something that stays with the viewer´s memory long after the film.

“Black Sunday” is one of those movies which can be recommended to everyone who loves the cinema. It´s more than a horror film, it´s a film classic, that still drives people to find new meanings from it, even the “subliminal” ones. For the rest, it´s just a good and entertaining horror film, by the master who´s better known as Mario Bava.

Video

Italian “Ripley's Home Video” (RHV) has released a 2-disc SE of this film, and the results are very good. The film is presented in Anamorphic 1.66:1 (with proper black bars on both sides), and there is very little of dirt or print damage. There is mild film grain, some softness in certain scenes and perhaps a glimpse of edge enhancement, but the transfer has strong black levels and it´s indeed very clean, which will do justice to Bava´s images. Dual-layer disc is R0, which keeps the bitrate in a fairly good level, close to 8. It should be noted, that this transfer includes one scene not available in the other DVD-releases as far as I know. The scene in question is the one where Katia (Barbara Steele) is having a conversation with her father in the garden where they live, and that scene is presented in Italian (and with “forced” English subtitles when you choose English audio). Apparently the scene was added to the actual film based on the original screenplay. Original “Fine Primo Tempo” and “Secondo Tempo” -title cards are also included. The film runs 84:51 minutes (PAL), and it has 16 chapters.

Audio

This disc has audio options for everybody. For the purists the disc has both English and Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono –tracks, and also English and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 –remixes. The disc has also optional Italian subtitles, but not the English ones (even though the back cover claims that both are included). The lack of English subtitles is probably the only real flaw of the disc, since I´m sure there are people who would like to watch this film also in Italian (and with English subtitles). English track is good though, no complaints about the “dubbing”-issues.

Audio is also probably cleaned and re-mastered, since the dialogue is clear and the music is powerful. The audio tracks are not perfectly clean, and you can hear some background noise if you turn the volume up, but I assume that this is still pretty close to the best efforts that they could get from the source materials from 1960. I didn´t hear big differences between the English and Italian -tracks (I watched the film in English), but Italian dialogue was probably a bit more “muffled” than the English one. 5.1-tracks are also very nice, keeping the original monaural feel, while adding some sound effects (like thunder, rain, etc) and music to the surround-channels (sometimes in all of them, and sometimes more on the front channels). Basically they widen the sound field by using elements from the original soundtrack that are kind of natural to hear from the surround-channels. It also should be noted, that film is using the original Italian score (by Nicolosi), not the US one. You can´t change the audio (nor subtitles) “on the fly” while watching the movie, so you have to go through the menu if you want to change the audio (this makes harder to compare the audio tracks).

Extras

Disc 1

The first disc includes the film itself, and a few extras also. First there´s a pair of theatrical trailers, Italian (3:18 min) and US (3:21). Both are Anamorphic and quite identical, except for the narration and screen slogans. Photo gallery is next, and it´s in a form of slideshow, running 3:36 minutes. It mainly includes b&w stills from the movie, but some colors ones also. Gallery includes 36 photos, which plays with music. The disc rounds up with cast & crew filmographies (in Italian), which includes Mario Bava and actress Barbara Steele. Steele-section also includes some “facts” about her.

Disc 2

The main extra on “Disc 2” is a lengthy documentary called “Mario Bava - Maestro Of The Macabre” from the year 2000. It´s presented in Anamorphic 1.78:1, and is in English (Dolby Digital 2.0´ surround), with optional Italian subtitles. It has 12 chapters, running 60:07 minutes. This documentary is quite enjoyable, and it includes loads of interesting interviews from the noted genre journalists like Tim Lucas and Kim Newman (well, and more controversial ones like Allan Bryce); Bava´s relatives like Lamberto Bava, Georgia Bava, and Fabrizio “Roy” Bava; Bava´s producers like Samuel Z. Arkoff and Alfredo Leone; his co-workers and actors like Carlo Rambaldi, Dardano Sacchetti, Carlo Rustichelli, John Saxon, and John Phillip Law; and more recent directors that are fans of him like Tim Burton, Joe Dante, and John Carpenter. When some person speaks Italian, there´s an English voiceover translating it (note, that if you want to see who´s the person speaking, you have to turn the Italian subtitles on). This documentary basically tells the biography of Bava, focusing more on certain films from his career. Everything´s tied up with narration and clips from selected films as well as interesting photos. While the hour might sound long, I couldn´t help but get the feeling that this still leaves plenty of material out. It would´ve been nice to hear more of some other films too since Bava worked with many different genres, and too much is focused e.g. of finding similarities from Scott´s “Alien (1979)” and Bava´s “Planet Of The Vampires AKA Terrore Nello Spazio (1965)” (I mean they forget “It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)”). And with all due respect, I wasn´t that keen to hear so much from Dr. Linda Williams, since she is no Tim Lucas. All in all this is a quality documentary with plenty of information, and it´s also very well done (good production values). It´s also a reminder how sudden and sad his passing was in 1980.

Next there´s a 1995 interview -featurette with actress Barbara Steele, which runs 8:23 minutes. It´s in Italian, but with English or Italian subtitles. This featurette doesn´t go very deep, but Steele speaks about Bava and Italian cinema generally, telling a few interesting anecdotes (e.g. that set was totally monochromatic when they shot “Black Sunday” - which seems to be untrue). The featurette also includes some clips from that film.

The last section is called “Curiosita”, which includes 3 brief featurettes:
-“Homage to Camillo Mastrocinque" -short story runs 1:47 minutes, and shows people in the movie theatre watching “Black Sunday”. The featurette is shot in b&w and is only in Italian (no subtitles).
-“Italian version”-segment runs 6:21 minutes, and includes notes and clips about the differences in the Italian version (like the scene I was mentioning earlier). Clips are in rather rough shape and are in Italian only (no subtitles).
-“Ciak!” runs 3:22 minutes, and seems to be a collection of different screen tests. These tests are not for the actors, but rather how the overall visual style looks. Clips are presented with music.

Keep case also includes an 8-page booklet, with DVD notes, liner notes by Alberto Pezzotta, short Mario Bava interview from 1976 and some Script notes, all in Italian only. The booklet also has some photos.

Overall

If you´re new to Bava, make this one the first film that you´re going to see from him, and this release is a very recommended way to see it, since it includes a quality transfer and audio, and some good extras. If you´re already a fan of Bava, you might seriously consider getting this, for the cleaner transfer and wide selection of audio tracks.

This DVD is available at Xploited Cinema.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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