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.
on February 4, 2013
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.
on February 24, 2000
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.
on May 18, 2000
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...
on October 14, 2000
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!
on December 27, 1999
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.
on August 23, 2012
Amazon's absurd policy of listing reviews for previous releases under newer releases of the same, or in this case vaguely similar, titles is really frustrating. I'm not sure about you guys, but if I am reading reviews for the new Bluray of "Wizard of Oz" - why on earth would I have any interest in reviews for the decades-old VHS release?? But some dingbat at Amazon seems to think this is a good idea and lumps all reviews for a particular movie or music title under ALL OF ITS RELEASES!! I'm not sure why as it can only hurt sales. Say for example someone is speaking about the poor quality of the OLDER release meanwhile the NEWER REMASTERED PICTURE AND SOUND re-release has that review lumped together with it. Someone has a very good chance of passing on the purchase because of the technical description of and entirely different product.
Well with this particular release, Amazon has sunk to a new low of stupidity. Mario Bava's classic "Black Sunday" is being re-released onto DVD and Bluray with a supposed marked improvement in quality. Fans of the film await news on what, if any, special features will be included. And what info do we find here on Amazon? All the reviews for the Mario Bava Boxed Set that was released back in 2007?!?! Why Amazon?! Why?! There are many other websites where one can go to see reviews of a film (IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes etc..) but you are selling a PRODUCT - and as such only reviews pertaining to that particular product should be listed under it.
on September 24, 2012
I am upset with this blu ray release of Mario Bava's first feature MASK OF SATAN (aka Black Sunday). First off, the picture IS more detailed than the Anchor Bay DVD released, but it is not a very clean print. Specks, dirt are in abundance. I don't mind the film grain. Glad they left that alone. But this great film deserves to be "cleaned" up (and I don't mean grain removed) to make its debut on blu ray. Something to "Wow!" Bava fans. This ain't that disc. No restoring this film to the brilliance it once was back when it was released to theaters. Too much "junk" that distracts from the beauty of this film. This print looks "cruddier" than the Anchor Bay version. Too bad Anchor Bay didn't use their print and upscaled it to 1080p because it would have looked better than what Kino offers.
The picture isn't the best, nor are the special features. The awesome commentary by the Bava scholar Tim Lucas (I love to hear this guy talk about film) carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD, a few trailers and that's about it. I am VERY disappointed that after all these years no one has the nerve to persuade Barbara Steele to do a commentary track. It would be great to hear the Queen of Italian horror talk about working with Mario Bava.
Big disappointment from this Mario Bava fan on this blu ray release. Mario Bava's BAY OF BLOOD from Arrow on blu ray is much better.
If you already have MASK OF SATAN on DVD, don't bother upgrading.
By the way, Kino uses the Italian print (English dialog) that shows the title MASK OF SATAN but below it in subtitles they put Black Sunday. Should we be reminded which version we are watching? This is not intended for the hardcore Bava fan. A wasted opportunity, indeed.
on July 11, 2012
MASK OF SATAN
La Maschera del Demonio (The Mask of Satan) is the proper name of this Gothic Horror classic. (Rant) It's amazing how America is incapable of using foreign film titles & always manages to change the titles to something pointless. America didn't even get her name spelled right on the credits or the trailer (Rant over).
Mario Bava's first movie is a tremendous success in all phases of Gothic Horror. The writing, directing, cinematography & acting are a treat to watch. Barbara Steele, the Queen of the Virgin / harlot double role stars as Princess Asa Vajda / Katia Vajda. Katia is the virginal love interest of her co-star John Richardson playing Dr. Andre Gorobec but the even the secondary roles are well done.
Set in two time periods 250 years apart the evil Asa cohort of Igor Javutich, a sorcerer are killed for witchcraft but not before cursing the family members involved. What a delivery of the curse too. You'll never find a better one. Fast forward 200 years & you find Katia Vajda the picture of innocence & spitting image of Asa at home with her Father, a highly superstitious man close to death. Two Doctor's, professor Kruvajan & Dr. Gorobec are traveling thru the country & stumble on the Vajda family tomb. The rest of the movie deals with the resurrection of the two evil fiends. One by accident or fate?, one by design. Watch them begin to renew their lust for revenge & blood.
I notice I left out praise for the writers. Nickolai Gogol wrote the story the screen play was adapted from. Mario Bava contributed as a writer but the majority of the screen play was done by Ennio De Concini, Mario Seradrei & Marcelo Coscia. The quality of the short story is a historical fact. The quality of the screenplay you'll see for yourself.
Many, shocking for the time, special effects are shown here & they still appear eerie today. The American version is missing a number of minutes of this film so make sure you buy the one I'll give a link too later. Necromancy & necrophilia are the subject matter here that was uncommon for the time. Familial betrayal & hatred of human blood ties rule the day, or will love, innocence & knowledge. This is a movie about a complete sellout to the powers of Satanism & evil. It's a rare & true treat that can easily be watched again & again over a lifetime. I rate it 5 Amazon Stars in every category applicable to movie making.
I cannot say enough about Barbara Steele's performance here, her alabaster skin for which she's famous was the perfect canvas for the portrayal of harlot or virgin & her face expresses those emotions perfectly. Catch her again in Castle of Blood & Shivers the real title, called They Came from Within in America. OK, that's more rant.
on September 23, 2012
I'll leave it to other reviewers to give you their opinions about the movie itself. I'll just put it like this: It's a magnificent and masterful classic that should be watched by anyone interested in the golden age of horror and more specifically, the origins of Italian horror. Black Sunday was innovative and inspirational, paving the way for many thriller, suspense and horror tropes still in use today. Kino's blu-ray treatment is almost passable. The first thing I noticed: no Italian dialog track with or without subtitles. Unacceptable. I almost couldn't believe it. Instead, Kino gives us only an English dub with some glaring synchronization issues. When the product description reads "original Italian cut", it's only referring to the picture, and has nothing to do with the audio. Concerning the picture quality, this transfer looks like it was straight from the source. Obviously, no restoration, not even cleaning was completed. This film went from the can and straight to the scanner, nothing in between. It's as pure a transfer as we're going to get, but beware that the complete lack of restorative efforts is evident throughout. If you've been pampered by the awesome restoration efforts of Criterion Collection or Masters of Cinema, prepare yourself for disappointment here. This Kino blu ray release is more like an old Ferrari barn find than a Ferrari manufacturer's corporate collection piece. The image quality certainly has its high points as any film stored in a sensible archive will have, but they are exceptional. The audio is good, perhaps as good as mono audio can get. Distortion is evident in places, but it's otherwise highly satisfactory, considering the audio recording equipment at the time of recording. Additional features are minimal. There are a few trailers and a single commentary track; that's it. Packaging is your standard blu-ray fare, with no special case and no insert. I should have bought the cheaper DVD.
EDIT: After listening to the commentary track on this BD by a Bava film scholar, it's evident that the film was originally shot with the actors speaking in English. Contrary to my assumption, the actors did not originally use Italian to speak any of the dialog. I think perhaps the use of Italian dialog in the original cut is a common misconception, the result of which is likely due to such a terrible English on English dub. Even so, I'd still like to see a version with the original dialog track intact. This dub is horrible, but perhaps that's the only way we can have it. Maybe the original dialog track doesn't exist.