87 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Brilliant Bava
Italian director Mario Bava exploded onto the horror scene with the wonderful black and white film "Black Sunday," also known as "The Mask of Satan" (a title I prefer because it does such a better job describing the movie). This picture borrows heavily from a Nikolai Gogol short story called "The Vij," and while I am not familiar with the...
Published on October 26, 2003 by Jeffrey Leach
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blu-Ray Not All It Should Be
I already owned the previous DVD release of this film but was excited to purchase the Blu-Ray. The biggest disappointment for me is not the image quality (which is okay but, comparatively speaking, no revelation) but the fact that this Blu-Ray gives you no options but to watch the lousy English dub. Why? It makes no sense. The film was released as an exploitation film in...
Published 24 months ago by Anon.
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87 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Brilliant Bava,
Italian director Mario Bava exploded onto the horror scene with the wonderful black and white film "Black Sunday," also known as "The Mask of Satan" (a title I prefer because it does such a better job describing the movie). This picture borrows heavily from a Nikolai Gogol short story called "The Vij," and while I am not familiar with the story, the movie succeeds fantastically at conveying a bleak atmosphere of horror. "The Mask of Satan" was Bava's official directorial debut, giving viewers a chance to see the genius that was to come from this excellent filmmaker. Bava didn't merely direct films, however. He also worked on all aspects of movie making during his long career. The director even helped his son cut his teeth in the business immediately before his death in 1980. Fans will miss Bava terribly after viewing just a few of his films, as he was one of those rare Italian horror directors who could truly deliver the goods.
"Black Sunday," set in Romania, opens at an unspecified date in the seventeenth century. Some of the local nobles decide to get together and roast a couple of Satan's followers, but this barbecue bears a special meaning for the House of Vajda because one of its own is on the spit. The beautiful Princess Asa Vajda fell under the evil spell of the dark one, along with her unseemly lover Javutich, and both now face a painful execution. In order to insure that these two sullied creatures wear the mark of their crimes, Asa's own brother orders a metal mask of Satan nailed to their faces. Unfortunately for the Vajda family, Asa casts a curse on the family immediately before her execution, promising to come back from the dead and plague her relatives throughout the centuries. After carrying out this sordid task, the people present attempt to burn the corpses, but a rainstorm conveniently whips up and prevents the destruction of the bodies of these two satanic worshippers. In order to rid themselves of the bodies, the House of Vajda orders Asa interred in the family crypt with a few conditions: a glass pane and a cross must be placed on the sarcophagus in order to keep Asa firmly in her coffin. Javutich's corpse doesn't fare as well; his body ends up in a grave in the cemetery. All's well that end's well after this incident, as Asa and Javutich waste away the centuries in their tombs.
Flash forward two hundred years. Two doctors traveling to a medical conference stumble upon the decaying Vajda crypt. In a fit of scientific defiance to peasant tradition, one of the doctors named Kruvajan bumbles around Asa's coffin and causes some damage to it. From this point on, Bava takes his viewers on a roller coaster ride of creepy imagery, walking corpses, vampiric transformations, and oppressive atmosphere rarely seen in even the best of horror films. As the horror of "The Mask of Satan" unfolds, we meet the various characters who will play witness to the resuscitated curse on the House of Vajda: Doctor Gorobec, the young, heroic companion of Kruvajan destined to save the day; Katia Vajda, the present princess of Vajda; and her fearful father and brother. Katia's father knows about the curse of Asa, and he spends a significant portion of his time worrying about it. Moreover, several people remark on the amazing resemblance between Asa and Katia Vajda as seen in an old portrait of the Satan worshipping princess. Does this similarity have anything to do with the Asa's seemingly renewed deathbed curse? Probably, and the fun comes from watching it unfold through Bava's masterful use of cinematography, sets, atmosphere, sound effects, and gruesome special effects.
That Universal horror films influenced "The Mask of Satan" is so obvious it really doesn't need mentioning in the editorial review on this site. Throughout the movie, I continually recognized these similarities. Perhaps the surprising revelation here is that Bava's film is markedly better than many of the influences he supposedly borrowed from. Check out the coach moving through the forest in complete silence, or the trip Javutich and the doctor take through the castle. These are superb effects accomplished without the benefit of CGI or fancy prosthetics. Additionally, every movement of each character seems choreographed for maximum creepy effect. I kept wondering how Bava managed to get his actors to move so SLOWLY while making it look so natural. Special mention goes to the eerily effective Barbara Steele, the actress who plays both Asa and Katia. I wouldn't go as far as a few horror fans and say that this woman is drop dead gorgeous, but she is pretty and the make-up effects used on her face give her a ultra creepy appearance when she is playing Asa. I could go on and on about the things I liked in this movie. Everything works masterfully, giving "The Mask of Satan" a classic feel right from the start.
The DVD version of the film I watched carries a "Special Edition" label, meaning that you get a Mario Bava biography and filmography, a trailer, a photo and poster gallery, and a commentary by Bava historian Tim Lucas. The package claims this is the uncut version of the film, always a good thing when you decide to watch a horror movie. Mario Bava went on to make a slew of films in a wide range of genres, but so far "The Mask of Satan" has been my most satisfying experience with this director. With Halloween right around the corner, this film would nicely fit the bill for a home horror movie marathon.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This deluxe DVD is a must for any serious collector,
Black Sunday is an engrossing, well-crafted, and suprisingly beautiful horror film. This DVD is testament to that fact and a sharp back-handed slap at those who automatically dismiss genre movies as trash. The respect Black Sunday and director Mario Bava are given is long overdue.
I won't bore you with tedious plot summarys. All I will tell you is that if you haven't seen Black Sunday, you must, and that if you have seen it, you must see it again in this presentation (because you've been missing plenty both in content and quality).
Presented in its origanal 1:66:1 theatrical aspect ratio, viewers for the first time can see this classic in ALL its macabre glory. The image quality is absolutely astounding when one compares it to the VHS editions floating around. The audio is also presented in pristine condition gaurenteed to sound excellent in any stereo thanks to the various formats.
All this makes one wonder exactly how much time went into this? If Video Watchdog editor/publisher Tim Lucas's liner notes and commentary are any indication, then the answer has to be a lot! Both are well-informed and thorougly entertaining.
It is a wonderful feeling to know that someone took the time to give you your money's worth -- that is exactly what the people behind this gorgeous DVD have done.
As an avid fan of the writings of Tim Lucas, I would like to strongly encourage fans of Mario Bava and like-minded artists to check out his magazine, Video Watchdog and his post-modernistic vampire novel, Throat Sprockets.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best-ever transfer (but....),
Actually, my rating for this DVD version of "Black Sunday" would be 5 stars for the video transfer, 5 stars for Bava's cinematography (seen here like never before), 2 stars for the audio transfer, and 3 stars for the overall quality of the film itself. Bava was not a great director, and didn't like to be called a "cinematographer," but this film really is a painting in motion: every scene is a paradigm of Gothicism -- the cinematic equivalent of Gustave Dore. Like other
reviewers, I was floored by the print used for this disc: it looks, almost literally, like it was shot yesterday, and it's almost impossible to believe the film is almost 40 years old. If there are other films from this era that look this pristine, I haven't seen them. My only quarrel with the disc has to do with the dubbing. In all honesty, I feel this film sports one of the worst American dubbing jobs ever performed on a film, and the big question (which neither Tim Lucas nor anyone else seems to have raised)is this: WHERE is the original Italian-language version of "Black Sunday," and why wasn't an attempt made to give us the original dialogue with OPTIONAL English subtitles? Mr. Lucas would have us believe that this DVD was the original version, but obviously the entire cast is speaking Italian (duhhh - why else would you have to dub in English?). So, yes, I'm thrilled to have this beautiful print, but hopefully in the future we'll get the original Italian dialogue and not have to endure the abominable dubbing...
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Italian Horror Film of the '60's.,
This review is from: Black Sunday (VHS Tape)
Italy produced many creepy horror efforts of the '60's, but this is the most effective by far. From its ominous opening to its fiery finish, BLACK SUNDAY is a terrifying cinematic experience. The hauntingly beautiful Barbara Steele, who went on to become Italy's foremost Scream Queen, plays a dual role: a lovely virginal princess, and a wicked witch who returns from the grave to seek vengeance on the descendants of those who burned her at the stake over a hundred years before. Steele is strikingly effective in both roles, and the mysterious Gothic atmosphere is both sinister and beautiful. The film was shot in gorgeous black and white, and it just wouldn't look right any other way. This was also the directorial debut of Mario Bava who, like Steele, would become a crucial name in '60's Italian scare flicks. Horror fans just won't be able to do any better than this!
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Blu-Ray Not All It Should Be,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Black Sunday: Remastered Edition [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I already owned the previous DVD release of this film but was excited to purchase the Blu-Ray. The biggest disappointment for me is not the image quality (which is okay but, comparatively speaking, no revelation) but the fact that this Blu-Ray gives you no options but to watch the lousy English dub. Why? It makes no sense. The film was released as an exploitation film in the US by American International Pictures; the dub is of this level. Compare this with the just-released Region 2 UK Blu-Ray which offers three audio versions ("Italian, European English and AIP English"!) as well as the option of watching the original Italian version, with music by Roberto Nicolosi, or the AIP re-edit, re-dub with music by Lex Baxter. It also includes, as a bonus, the earlier I VAMPIRI (which Bava partly directed, but without credit). Now, this is what one expects from a Blu-Ray! I've just ordered the UK release and will report on it again when I eventually receive it. Of course, it requires one to have a multi-region player so it would be a no-go for most readers here, but my point is simply that there is no reason why this classic little gem doesn't deserve better treatment by its US distributor. A missed opportunity. The same bare bones treatment seems to characterize the other recent Bava Blu-Rays. Sad.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mask of Satan,
By A Customer
I don't really know if I would say this was a great movie, but it is a fascinating movie. Even more fascinating if you watch it with the audio commentary. Normally I'm not too keen on that audio commentary stuff, but in this case I was intrigued because of a scene in which Barbara Steele the witch/vampire sucks the life energy (or something like that) out of Barbara Steele the love interest/mortal. In the course of this transformation their (her) makeup changes so that one character appears to age while the other appears to grow younger. (Now, this wasn't a Wolfman kind of thing, where the camera dissolves between a series of makeup applications and you can clearly see the dissolves between separate shots. I mean, Barbarba was doing some serious writhing while those age lines were appearing and disappearing on her face, and there were no signs of cuts or dissolves! And this was in the days before computer morphing.) Anyway, I wondered, How the hell did they do that? So I enabled the audio commentary in the menu and sure enough the effect was explained (it was a pretty ingenious little effect too, I might add). Anyway, I ended up watching the whole movie with the commentary over it, because darned if all didn't turn out to pretty fascinating. The commentary was done by film historian/expert/possible OCD sufferer named Tim Lucas who seemed to know what he was talking about. Now, normally, there's something about those "The Making of" media specials/reports about Hollywood blockbusters--Titanic, for example--that just put me to sleep. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, you spend $100 million and have several dozen nerds slaving over computer keyboards for months, your effects better look pretty spiffy. But when you get impressive results when your using a child's wagon for your dolly shots and poached egges for eyeballs, that's when I get interested. Anyway, thumb's up from me on your job, Mr. Lucas. Apparently this same fellow provides audio commentary on Kill, Baby, Kill too. Which I'm thinking I might buy as well.
I should add that the transfer for Black Sunday is pretty nice, and this is pretty important because the big thing this movie has going for it (as opposed to, say, great acting, brilliant dialogue, etc.) is its cinematography. And atmosphere. It's got that too.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bava, Steele, and Lucas make this movie a keeper,
"Black Sunday" is widely regarded as one of Mario Bava's strongest films in a career filled with over a dozen bona fide horror/giallo/goth classics. On one level, "Black Sunday" is something of a red herring for the director, a black and white film which reminds one more--on first glance--of the classic '30s Universal horror stories than of later color-laden works like "Black Sabbath" or "Planet of The Vampires." However, "Black Sunday" is where Bava began as a solo director, and he hits a home run the first time out with this eerie tale.
Barbara Steele is perfectly cast as both the evil vampiress risen from the dead as well as her modern descendant, a more demure but surprisingly strong heiress. This performance cemented her reputation as one of the earliest "scream queens," and in this film there are plenty of opportunities to display her talents as one of the finest reactors (as opposed to actors) in cinema history. Her expressive eyes and eyebrows--and voice-- always let the viewer know exactly what her character is feeling.
Modern viewers may be wary that the film is in black and white, but this remains one of the most beautifully shot films I've ever seen. When done the right way, black and white photography can be far more evocative than color photography--not to slight such Bava devotees as Argento, who obviously have copied his later penchant for color. The camerawork, especially a 360 turn displaying the entire dungeon, is always impressive; rumor has it that Bava often used a child's wagon as a dolly to save money.
The DVD of "Black Sunday" is exemplary not only due to the beauty of the transfer but also Tim Lucas' commentary. This is one of the finest commentaries done by an "outsider" (i.e. someone who did not direct or star in the film) I have ever heard. Lucas, a historian, is known by many as the author of fine liner notes for DVDs for Bava and Jess Franco (eg, "Vampyros Lesbos"); here, he talks almost nonstop about every aspect of the film and its director. Never dull, sometimes funny, this is a commentary which will teach you more about Mario Bava in 80 minutes than you could learn surfing the web all day.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I remember, but still fun,
By A Customer
I first saw Black Sunday on TV over 30 years ago and it scared the heck out of me. The opening scene where the witch, played by one of the first scream queens, Barbara Steele, has the Mask of Satan nailed onto her face was a real shocker. The story is simple--evil witch Princess if put to death, places curse on descendants who do the dirty deed, and comes back 200 years later to exact her revenge. Only Mario Bava could combine witchcraft with vampires, who can by killed by driving a stake in the left eye. There are several wonderful scenes--such as when Steele's father returns from the dead and comes out of his coffin to attack his daughter.
Unfortunately, that was 30 years ago, and the viewing this time was purely for nostalgia, as a number of the scenes don't really stand the test of time. The DVD version is an excellent copy and restored about three minutes cut for its U.S. release; Bava's use of black-and-white is superb. The audio commentary that goes with the film is also a good one. So, although this film will not likely appeal to or scare any of today's younger, jaded audience, I found it great fun to watch, and came away with even greater respect for Director Bava.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BAVA - HAMMER : 1 - 0,
At least, one scene of italian director Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY will haunt your memory for a long time : Javutich, played by a sepulchral Arturo Dominici, kidnaps a doctor and drives him to the castle's chapel in a diligence. The hellish trip is partly filmed in slow-motion without any sound. Astounding ! and a great homage to the german director F.-W. Murnau who shot the same scene in 1922 for his NOSFERATU but in a slightly different manner.
In 1961, the British Hammer Films reigned over the horror movies genre and the audience was accustomed to the Gothic made in England. So let's appreciate Bava's courage ; with a screenplay vaguely inspired by a story of Nicolaï Gogol, he was aiming at the same goal than Terence Fisher & Co. : frighten the audience !
In my opinion, Mario Bava is clearly the winner of this cinematographical battle. BLACK SUNDAY is the masterpiece of this director and deserves to stay in any curious movie lover's secret library.
An excellent copy and edifying bonus features will complete your pleasure.
A DVD dedicated to Tim Burton.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great homage to classic Universal horror,
When I first saw this 1960 film it totally floored me. If you haven't seen the old, classic Universal horror flicks from the 1930's and 1940's then the film might not have the same effect. Bava does an amazing job of recreating the old Universal atmosphere and adding some slightly risque touches that probably wouldn't have past muster two decades earlier. Barbara Steele is the prototypical goth horror babe. She could also act and is at once beautiful and mysterious. The opening sequence with the spiked mask is great and the overall pace of the film is about right. I think the fight sequence toward the end could have been a little more eventful, but all of the scenes are shot in an artistic manner with a great amount of spooky details. Overall, one of my favorites of the horror genre, right up there with Psycho, The Exorcist, and Universal's triumvirate of Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man.
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Black Sunday: Remastered Edition [Blu-ray] by Mario Bava (Blu-ray - 2012)