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Black Sunday: Remastered Edition [Blu-ray]
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|Format||Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Blu-ray, NTSC, Original recording remastered, Widescreen|
|Contributor||Mario Bava, Barbara Steele|
|Runtime||1 hour and 26 minutes|
In Mario Bava's gothic horror masterpiece steeped in rich atmosphere, condemned witch Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) returns from the dead two centuries after her execution and wreaks vengeance on her killers' family. Possessing the body of a descendant who happens to look just like her, Asa pulls out all the stops to exact her revenge. This is Bava's credited directorial debut, and it catapulted Steele and him to stardom.
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : NR (Not Rated)
- Product Dimensions : 0.7 x 7.5 x 5.4 inches; 2.56 Ounces
- Item model number : 1041
- Director : Mario Bava
- Media Format : Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Blu-ray, NTSC, Original recording remastered, Widescreen
- Run time : 1 hour and 26 minutes
- Release date : September 18, 2012
- Actors : Barbara Steele
- Studio : Kino Lorber films
- ASIN : B008BWFOZA
- Country of Origin : USA
- Number of discs : 1
- Customer Reviews:
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This black & white Gothic horror film opens in the Middle Ages, where Princess Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele; THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK - 1962) is accused by her brother of being a witch and a vampire and working in concert with Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici; CASTLE OF BLOOD - 1964) to drink the blood of innocent villagers, causing many deaths. Before she is to be burned alive, she must wear the "Mask of Satan", a bronze mask with sharp metal spikes on the inside. Before the mask is put on her (one is also put on Igor, which we do not see), Asa curses her brother, saying, "You will never escape my vengeance, or of Satan's! My revenge will seek you out, and with the blood of your sons, and their sons, and their sons, I will continue to live forever! They will restore me to life you now rob from me!" The masked executioner then used a giant wooden hammer to pound the mask on Asa's face (a scene which is still hard to watch today). When they try to burn Asa and Igor's bodies at the stake, a sudden storm erupts and douses the flames, so they place Asa's body in the family crypt (Her sarcophagus has a window in it, so if she is ever to come back to life, she will see a crucifix outside the window, which will keep her from rising again) and bury Igor in unconsecrated ground in an area of the cemetery meant for murderers.
Two hundred years pass and we see Dr. Choma Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi; Bava's ERIK THE CONQUERER - 1961) and his apprentice, Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson; MURDER OBSESSION - 1981), traveling in a carriage to a scientific conference in Moscow. When Choma tells the coachman, Nikita (Mario Passante), to take the shortcut through the forest because it will save them time, Nikita is hesitant to do it. Choma asks him if he is scared of the "witch", which legend says roams the forest and Nikita replies, "It's not so easy to frighten me. I fought through the whole war against Napoleon, but to tell you the truth, I'd rather find myself face-to-face with that cursed Frenchman than meet up with a ghost!" Choma tosses Nikita a coin and tells him to get moving. When Andre hears wailing coming from outside, Choma tells him it's nothing, just the wind whistling through the trees. They then hear Nikita scream, saying the branches from the trees tried to reach out and choke him. Choma tells him to try not to choke himself with the bottle of vodka he is holding and to get moving (All the trees in the forest look dead, as there is no foliage on any of the bare branches). As they are passing some ruins, their coach loses a wheel, but Nikita says he can fix it, the wheel just slipped off the axle. Andre and Choma once again hear the wailing and go to investigate. They end up in a ruined chapel and the wailing sound is coming from an old organ, the wind blowing through its pipes. They then enter a crypt, notice Asa's sarcophagus and see the bronze mask through the window. When Andre goes to help Nikita, Choma is attacked by a giant bat, which he shoots and kills with his pistol, accidentally breaking the glass window in Asa's sarcophagus with his cane. Andre comes running when he hears the gunshots, commenting that bats usually run away from people, not attack them. Then Choma does something extremely stupid; he pulls the bronze Mask of Satan off of Asa's face, revealing that her face is still intact after two centuries (but missing her eyes, as we watch spiders crawl out of her empty eyesockets!). Choma cuts his hand on a piece of broken glass when removing the mask, his blood dripping into Asa's empty eyesockets. Choma and Andre then leave the crypt and run into the mysterious Princess Katya (Steele again), who has two huge bull mastiffs on leashes. When Andre apologizes for entering the chapel because he thought it was abandoned, Katya tells him that everything is going to ruin, because he father, Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani; HOLOCAUST 2000 - 1977), refuses to repair anything, even his own chapel, because, "This place, in his eyes, is a curse." Nikita then announces that the coach is repaired and they can leave, but Andre tells Katya he won't say goodbye to her because he hopes they will meet again. Count on it. Choma and Andre decide to spend the night in the nearest village, as the camera pans on Asa's tomb, showing us that her body is beginning to regenerate.
We then see Katya playing the piano, while he father sits mournfully by the fireplace. He hears howling coming from outside and when Katya's brother, Constantine (Enrico Olivieri), says it is wolves, his father says no, it's not wolves, it's something much more evil. He then notices that a painting of Asa, his ancestor, has changed position and Katya agrees, but Constantine says that the portrait has always had a strange effect on his sister. Katya says, "It's like a flame that can't escape. There's something alive about it. Something different about the eyes, the hands, as if it were hiding something. Sometimes, I'm afraid to go near it." The Prince feels a sudden chill, as if it were coming out of the fireplace and penetrating his bones. He tells Katya and Constantine to go to bed, saying to them, "My eyes aren't tired. My spirit is." and that he wants to be alone. When manservant Ivan (Tino Bianchi; THE MANIAC RESPONSIBLE - 1975) serves the Prince his nightcap, the Prince says to him he has served in this house for many years (Ivan says, "I was born here.") and today is the Feast of Saint George and he must know the legend of the curse that was placed on this castle. "Two centuries ago today, two people were executed for practicing witchcraft; Princess Aja and her accomplice, Prince Igor Javutich, and to their faces was nailed the Mask of Satan. A hundred years later, again on the Feast of Saint George, an earthquake destroyed only the ancient chapel and the witch's tomb was found split open, as if Asa tried to break out to accomplish her revenge. In fact, that same night, Princess Masha died mysteriously." The Prince goes on to explain that both his daughter and Princess Masha are very beautiful; the mirror image of Asa, and Princess Masha was 21-years-old when she died, just as Katya is today. The Prince is scared and tormented about history repeating itself today, worried for Katya's safety. All Ivan has to say is, "You mustn't be afraid, my Lord. The cross will protect you. Even if what you said is true, these monsters are terrified by the sacred symbol of Christ. Always have it near you and you'll be safe." The Prince finds comfort in Ivan's words and thanks him, blaming the atmosphere surrounding this cursed day for being scared for his daughter. When the Prince goes to drink his hot toddy, he sees a reflection of the Mask of Satan in the liquid and swears that evil won't win; he has the symbol of Christ on his side. We then see that Asa's body now has eyes, so it won't be long before she's up and walking again.
Andre and Choma are now at the village inn, Andre getting drunk on vodka and pining for Katya, but Choma tells him to get some sleep, they're getting up early in the morning to travel to Moscow. The innkeeper's daughter, Sonya (Germana Dominici; THE SEVENTH GRAVE - 1965; the daughter of Arturo Dominici), is too scared to milk the cow at night, so the Innkeeper (Clara Bindi; THE PIRATE AND THE SLAVE GIRL - 1959) asks Choma if it is ridiculous for her daughter to feel this way. Choma says yes and basically shames Sonya to go and milk the cow. Near the barn where the cow is, Igor Javutich is rising from his grave, wearing the Mask of Satan. He pulls the mask from his head, revealing an old and wrinkled face. When he removes the Mask, a sudden gust of wind invades the Prince's castle, waking up the Prince. Igor appears in the Prince's bedroom, walking slowly towards him, Igor's face looking very much like he spent two hundred years buried in dirt. The Prince grabs his gold crucifix from his night table and puts it in front of Igor's face and he quickly disappears. Katya, Constantine and Ivan quickly run into the Prince's bedroom and find him near death, but Katya remembers that Andre and Choma are doctors and sends stablehand Boris (Renato Terra; THE CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD - 1964) to the village to fetch them.
While Choma is outside the inn enjoying his pipe, Igor pulls up in a coach pretending to be a servant from the Prince's castle (His face now looks normal, but we will learn soon that's there a reason for it). He tells Choma that the Prince is very ill, so they sent him to fetch a doctor and Katya mentioned him. Choma wants to tells Andre where he is going, but Igor tells him he already spoke to his colleague, so Choma gets into the coach and they ride away (Igor doesn't know it, but Sonya saw him take Choma away, as she was hiding behind a tree and saw everything). Igor takes Choma to a castle, but it's not the Prince's castle, as Choma can see cobwebs everywhere. Igor locks Choma in a room, his fate to be revealed shortly. When a door suddenly opens and Choma walks through it, he can see he is in Asa's crypt. Asa rises from her tomb and tells Choma, "You will be dead to man, but you will be alive in death!" Then she 'kisses" Choma and begins drinking his blood (offscreen). Choma, now a vampire, shows up in the Prince's bedroom and tells Katya and Constantine to leave the room, he will take care of their father. When Constantine shows Choma the gold crucifix his father was holding, Choma jerks his head away, saying his father should should not have it any more, it will worsen his condition. When Katya and Constantine retire for the night, they find out the next morning that their father is dead and Choma has disappeared. When Katya tekes a look at her father, she discovers his face old and wrinkled, as if the life was sucked out of his body (she doesn't realize how right she is). Meanwhile, Andre is looking for Choma, only to be told by the Innkeeper that Sonya saw a strange man pick him up and drive him to the Prince's castle. Andre borrows a horse and rides to the castle, only to be told by Constantine that he blames Choma for his father's death. Andre says it's not like Choma to do such a thing and promises to get to the bottom of the matter.
When Boris is found dead in the river (killed by Igor, who drank his blood to regain his looks), Andre talks to Sonya, telling him it wasn't Boris who picked up Choma (she knows Boris), but a man she has never seen before. When Sonya walks into the castle and sees an old portrait of Igor, she tells Andre that's the man who picked up Choma. Katya is skeptical, asking how a man who has been dead for two centuries could suddenly be alive? Katya then asks Andre to stay in the castle; she will feel much safer if he does. That night, Choma pays Andre a visit in the castle and Andre notices how his colleague's hair has turned white, but Katya begins screaming, saying she saw a black hand behind the curtains in her bedroom, but Andre finds nothing. When Katya's dogs are found dead, their throats slashed, Andre knows that Choma is somehow involved. Things come to a head when Andre and Constantine find a hidden passageway behind the fireplace in the castle, which leads them to Asa's crypt, where they discover Asa's body, seemingly alive. When Constantine is captured by Igor (He kills Ivan), Andre works with a local Priest (Antonio Pierfederici) to get the answers they need to stop this madness. When they discover Choma's body in Igor's grave, the Priest puts Choma to eternal rest by piercing his left eye with his crucifix. The Priest tells Andre that Asa will come fully to life when she possesses a suitable body. Andre knows that body is Katya's, so he rushes to the castle before it is too late. When Igor kidnaps an unconscious Katya (who fainted after setting her vampire father's body on fire, killing him) and places her body next to Asa's, it's a race against time, as Andre must pierce Asa's left eye with a crucifix before she possesses Katya's body. Will he succeed or will it be too late? Will Asa, who is pretending to be Katya, convince Andre to destroy "Asa's" body or will he discover the deception? And what about Constantine? Is he still alive? I will tell you this: Just when it seems that darkness has won and Katya is dead, the villagers burn Asa's body, doing to her what should have been done two hundred years ago. Will this release Katya from an eternity in Purgatory or is she doomed? All questions will be answered at the film's conclusion.
This Gothic horror film is quite gruesome in spots (especially the mask being hammered onto Asa's face and the vampire Prince being burned alive by Katya) and shows Mario Bava's mastery with a camera, as he was a well-respected cinematographer before becoming a director. The camera floats effortlessly in most of the scenes, decades before there was such a thing as a Steadicam. Bava's use of shadows is second-to-none, adding an extra layer of eerie atmosphere to the film. You can actually feel the dread that permeates every frame of film and there's no denying Bava was a master of his craft. Bava based the screenplay, written by Ennio De Concini (Bava's EVIL EYE - 1963) & Mario Serandrei (who edited this film, as well as Bava's HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD - 1961 and BLACK SABBATH - 1963), with an uncredited assist by Bava, on Nikolay Gogol's story "The Viy", saying he would read it to his children at bedtime and they would get so scared that they would sleep in his bed for the night. He thought it would be the perfect first feature film for him as credited director and you would be hard-pressed to disagree with him. This film was a hit across the world, especially for American International Pictures (A.I.P.), who picked it up for distribution in the United States, re-edited it (removing a scene which implies that Asa and Igor were sister and brother and in an incestuous relationship), replaced Roberto Nicolosi's (EYE IN THE LABYRINTH - 1972) music score with one by Lex Baxter, and re-dubbed the film, even though it was already dubbed in English (it's quite obvious that everyone was speaking English in the film, but A.I.P. thought their accents would turn-off theatergoers). It was A.I.P.'s biggest moneymaker at the time, even out-grossing Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe films. The film was outright banned in the UK until 1968 (and that version was heavily cut), when it was released as REVENGE OF THE VAMPIRE. The fully uncut "European Version", which ran 87 minutes (A.I.P.'s version ran 84 minutes), was not released in Britain until 1992. It's easy to see why this film kick-started the Italian horror film industry, as there was no film quite like it at the time, introducing theatergoers to real scares for the first time across the globe. It also caused an immediate output of Gothic horror films to come out of Italy, some very good, some just passable and some simply awful, but it was Bava who proved himself to be a visual innovator at atmospheric horror, the likes of no one who came before him. Mario Bava is also credited with making Giallo films very popular, as his BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964), while not the first Giallo film, was the blueprint for others that came after it, well into the '70s and beyond. He is also credited as being the father of Slasher films, as his A BAY OF BLOOD (1971) was also the blueprint for other Slasher films that came long after it, some of them (especially the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise) copying the killings in that film verbatim. There is no doubt in my mind that Mario Bava was a filmic genius and even his lesser films, such as HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970) and BARON BLOOD (1972) offered viewers much in the way of visual delights, even if the plot suffered. This film is essential viewing for all fans of horror, if only to see Mario Bava at the beginning of his game, hitting the ball out of the park on his very first try.
Shot as LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO ("The Mask Of The Demon") and retitled BLACK SUNDAY by A.I.P. for theatrical release in the United States in 1961. Surprisingly, this never received a legitimate VHS release in the U.S., only choppy videos taken from 16mm prints from such gray market outlets like Something Weird Video and Sinister Cinema, but they were all the A.I.P. version. In 1999, Image Entertainment released the 87-minute European Version on DVD, where the onscreen title was THE MASK OF SATAN, followed by another DVD release in 2007 by Blue Underground (both long OOP). It wasn't until 2015 that Kino Lorber released both the A.I.P. and European versions on Blu-Ray as part of their "The Mario Bava Collection", but on separate discs, forcing you to shell out twice to see both versions, even though they would easily fit on one Blu-Ray disc (Kino is known for cheaping-out on extras on their discs, only a couple of Bava trailers and nothing else). If you have to make a choice, go for the European Version, as it is as close as you will get to Bava's original version. This film is the definition of a classic. Not Rated, but this is pretty grim stuff, especially for 1960.
This remastered edition looks excellent, in it's 1.66:1 widescreen format. Extras include foreign and US trailers and an insightful commentary by Tim Lucas, which are part of previous DVD editions from Anchor Bay/Image. What's missing are the bios on Brava and Steele, and the photo gallery, which I consider a shortcoming and big oversight by the Kino team. For those of you who have the Anchor Bay/Image DVD, you might want to hang on to it for those extras alone.
It's clear that some reviewers have no appreciation or understanding of the history of film. You can't watch Mario Bava's 1960 Black Sunday as if it were a recent Hollywood horror release. If you do, you're probably not going to like it - duh! Please save the Facebook and Twitter chatter for those forums or for reviews of the latest Hollywood offal.
Some films in history were monumental in determining the scope and development of the films that came after it. That is a fact that escapes one reviewer here who pans Black Sunday because Dario Argento's Suspiria is just so much more colorfully cinemagraphic. First of all, Bava made this film in 1960. Dario Argento didn't start making movies until a decade or so later, and he had Mario Bava to follow - and copy - in important ways. Not the use of color from the black and white Black Sunday, but from Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1963) - a symphony of beauty, color and horror. Don't get me wrong - I'm a big fan of Argento - but his use of color in Suspiria and Inferno is so clearly something he lifted from the much earlier Blood and Black Lace. Faulting Bava because he wasn't Argento is like slamming Newton because he wasn't Albert Einstein. Ridiculous!
Mario Bava made Black Sunday for about $60,000, a sum that was incredibly cheap for a movie even in 1960. He filmed it entirely on a sound stage that was so small the horse-drawn carriage couldn't take more than five or six steps without having to turn around. His budget didn't permit him to rent a dolly or a crane. No one before had created such lushly gothic horror sets - just check out the first scene of the underground crypt. Bava also introduced graphic depiction into horror movies - such as the now-famous hammering of the spiked mask onto Barbara Steele's face. Even the current Anchor Bay release is from an edited print that cuts out the last frames of that scene. We take graphic horror for granted now, but it started with Mario Bava in 1960. Remember: Argento's stylish murders and mutilations came more than a decade later - with much bigger budgets - and only after both Black Sunday and Blood and Black Lace blazed the trail.
Black Sunday oozes gothic horror atmosphere and does it very effectively. I've seen lots of big budget horror movies that simply ooze throwaway GGI graphics. I don't think anyone has ever bested Mario Bava's ability to create a multi-dimensional, sensual atmosphere of horror.
Bava's success with Black Sunday didn't only have an impact on Dario Argento. Horror films in the early 1960s were cheap trash drive-in fodder, with one sentence plot lines. The idea that you could make inexpensive but entertaining horror movies and make real money certainly wasn't lost on Roger Corman. Don't think for a moment that John Carpenter, George Romero, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and others too numerous to name didn't know who Mario Bava was.
This movie and its impact could fill a volume. Period.
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Apparently based on a story by Gogol, it has a fairy tale quality to it that American and English movies have rarely managed to capture - the young girl watching the coach swirling through woodland, for example. It also has pace and a welcome lack of humour. It also has - need one say it - Barbara Steele. That amazing face! It must be high in the Top Ten post-war list (possibly even at Number One), together with 'City Of The Dead'/'Horror Hotel' and 'Brides Of Dracula'.
Having said that, delivery was prompt, packaging adequate etc. I look forward to finding a version with subtitles.