Reviewed by: Jamey Hughton
What's it about
It's 17th century Moldavia, and Princess Asa Vajda stands accused of witchcraft and is sentenced to a most unpleasant death: having the spiked Mask of Satan nailed to her face before being burned alive. A storm kicks up and extinguishes the fire, but Asa's body is moved to a crypt where it rests for two centuries, only to be disturbed by a pair of doctors who are traveling through Moldavia to attend a medical convention. The local Vajda castle is now inhabited by Princess Katia, a descendant of the fallen demon/witch, and when Princess Asa rises from the grave, she comes calling for a human sacrifice of sorts. You can probably guess who that might be.
Is it good movie?
BLACK SUNDAY (aka THE MASK OF SATAN) is quite obviously a hugely influential film in the world of horror cinema, and from top to bottom it is a brilliant piece of work. The debut film (or the first credited, anyway) of famed Italian director Mario Bava, BLACK SUNDAY is gorgeously shot and dripping with atmosphere. The foggy surroundings and ornate castle sets recall classic Universal horror pictures, but what Bava did wit this film was pioneer a new era of grotesque, gothic horror. I can hardly recall another low-budget film that is informed with as much style as this one. This is one hell of beautiful horror movie.
Bava was a cinematographer for decades before the release of BLACK SUNDAY and his visual imagination by now had been richly developed. Shot after shot, this movie looks impressive and stylistically seems very much ahead of its time. The camera dollies and cranes in dynamic ways, there are 360 degree shots, warehouse sets spring to life with spooky authenticity, and thereís a very cool effect of a dark carriage gliding in slow motion. Bava also favors optical and special effects tricks and for a film made in 1960, there are some seamless moments of inspired technical work.
Barbara Steele, an English actress and all-around babe who would go on to star in several other well-known horror films (many of them Italian), plays the dual role of the vampiress/demon witch Princess Asa and her descendant, Princess Katia. Steele isnít blessed with much intelligent dialogue, but she definitely casts a spell in the film with her striking beauty and a sexy, doe-eyed gaze. John Richardson plays Dr. Andre Gorobec, a protege to the older Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi), and the young love interest who of course falls instantly in love when their carriage breaks a wheel on the road to the Vajda castle and the extremely hot Katia appears. Being fifty years old, the movieís love story feels dated, and some of the other performances are stiff. Hard to avoid.
However, what sets BLACK SUNDAY apart is its consummate level of craftsmanship on what Iím sure was a very limited budget. The sets are exquisite and Bavaís visual flair creates a rich, atmospheric, threatening world of dark mystery. Bavaís masterful skill and innovation behind the camera reminds me of another notorious heavyweight in the suspense department, Alfred Hitchcock. While there are some good gory moments (splashes of the bright red stuff marked all the directorís later work), BLACK SUNDAY is more of an exercise in pure cinematic style than anything else. And what style it is.
Video / Audio
Video 1:66:1 Widescreen Presentation. If youíre a Bava fan (there are lots of them) and youíve been watching grainy copies of BLACK SUNDAY for years, this clean and beautiful cut of the film is sure to make your day.
Audio Dolby Stereo 2.0. This release of BLACK SUNDAY restores the original Italian score and gets a quality dubbed English soundtrack.
Commentary by author Tim Lucas Film historian and author of the biography ďMario Bava:All the Colors of the DarkĒ, Lucas provides a thorough and fascinating glimpse into Bavaís career and the making of the film. Itís a very academic commentary (and by that I mean, more informative than fun) and it sounds as though Lucas is flipping through an entire binder full of information (he probably is). Itís also full of cool facts; for instance, that some sets were little more than narrow rooms brought to life by an amazing art department. And: as a younger man, Mario Bava checked under his bed every night before sleeping.
The disc is otherwise packed with the expected little things, although itís neat to see some of it dug up from the vault. Thereís an International Trailer, the U.S. Trailer, a T.V. Spot and a Poster and Still Gallery. Also on DVD contains four worthwhile trailers for future Bava films, including BLACK SABBATH.
Additionally, there are two Talent Bios for Mario Bava and Barbara Steele.
It's easy to see the serious impact that BLACK SUNDAY had on the ever-evolving horror genre at the time of its release. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I'm new to this Bava guy. I'm definitely going to have to check out more of his stuff in the very near future.