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Old 06-20-2004, 12:54 AM
Scored: 10
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Default Black Sunday

Reviewer: Styx
Review Date: April 11, 2000

Released by: Image Entertainment
Release date: 1/29/2000
MSRP: $24.99
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes

Mario Bava's first film released back in 1960 was the beginning of his brilliant career as a director, and is often regarded as his greatest film. Black Sunday, also known as The Mask of Satan, Mask of the Demon and in its native tongue, La Maschera del demonia, is a black and white gothic film of the highest breed. Image Entertainment has stepped up to the task of releasing a large number of Mario Bava films under their "Mario Bava Collection" line. Black Sunday is the second release in the line and the transfer on this DVD is remarkable. Let's take a closer look at The Mask of Satan.

The Story

inline Image In the 17th century, in a time when men and women who were accused of having ties with Satan were burned at the stake, a young Witch, Princess Asa (Barbara Steele) was condemned to death. She was found guilty of consorting with the devil and performing evil deeds with her servant, Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici). Before her death she placed a curse on the Vajda family and vowed to one day exact her revenge. Both were executed, the mask of Satan nailed to their face so that for all eternity they would wear their true faces, the face of Satan. However, before the bodies of Asa and Javutich could be burned a storm erupted and the people fled. Princess Asa was instead buried in her families Crypt with a cross atop her coffin to keep her secured.

inline Image Two Centuries later two doctors on their way to a convention stumble upon the crypt when their carriage hits a bump and the wheel slips off. While waiting for it to be repaired by the carriage's frightened coachman, Dr. Tomas Kruvajan and Dr. Adrej Gorobec delve deeper into the Tomb and discover Asa the Witches grave. Suddenly Dr.Kruvajan is attacked by a giant bat and during the struggle destroys the cross that is keeping Asa from rising from her grave. Dr. Kruvajan also cut himself and unbeknownst to him, the blood falls on the decrypted corpse of Asa. The doctors leave the tomb and resume their journey. Meanwhile, Asa with the help of Kruvajan's blood, is returning to life and with the help of Javutich she plans on carrying out her revenge against her family that condemned her two centuries ago.

inline Image Black Sunday is truly a work of genius and is certainly one of my favorites. Mario Bava, who was cinematographer, writer, special effects designer and director of many of his films, including this one, had his hands in everything. He was a jack of all trades and master of all. While watching the film one can't help but notice Bava's skill at creating style and atmosphere through the use of camera technique and composition. Take for instance the scenes where the young girl is milking the cow and outside in the cemetery the body of Javutich is rising from his grave. It all comes together to form a nightmarish gothic world in which long dead servants return from their graves and a witch with holes in her face can seduce a doctor into giving his life in exchange for hers.

inline Image The acting is about on par of what you would find from Universal's Monster films of the 30s and 40s, with the exception of Barbara Steele. Barbara Steele is considered to be the genre's first queen of horror and it's well deserved title. Playing a dual role as both the vengeful Princess Asa the Witch and her distraut descendent Katia. My favorite moment with her would have to be the scene where she hears Javutich struggling with Gorobec and she runs up to the camera makes some strange facial expressions and runs back. Barbara Steele has a lot of room to develop the characters she plays as she's thrown into almost every situation in a horror film as both Asa and Katia including the old "alone in the dark" routine.

Barbara Steele has a dark sensuous look which enables her to play both roles convincingly. Black Sunday is one of the true great gothic horror films, laced with style and atmosphere and wrapped in a good old-fashioned revenge plot. It takes a lot of its inspiration from the Universal films of the 30s and 40s, but under the direction of Mario Bava the film is in a league of its own.

Image Quality

inline Image Image Entertainment presents Black Sunday letterboxed at 1.66:1 in a phenomenal 16x9 enhanced transfer. To say this is the best Black Sunday has ever looked is an understatement. This is the kind of quality you can only get with a 16x9 transfer and further strengthens ones resolve to see all DVDs released this way. The detail and clarity of the transfer is superb everything appears well defined and highly detailed. From long shot character expressions like in the scene where the villagers report the dead body of Boris to the castle to close-ups everything appears sharp. The transfer is also very clean and nearly grain free; I hardly noted any grain at all except on rare occasion.

Blacks are solid and shadow detail is excellent giving the transfer a great sense of depth. Whites and grays were clean and also looked great. There's only one small problem with the transfer, which is some occasional print damage like scratches and specs. The film can go scenes without there being any visible print damage, but once in awhile it does intrude. I really wanted to score this image an A+ because it is fantastic, but the minor print damage present prevents me from doing so. I'm very impressed with this entry into the Mario Bava Collection and I hope Image will do as well with the other Bava titles they plan on putting out. Most of all I hope they continue to do 16x9 transfers since the transfer for Black Sunday speaks for itself.


Presented in Dolby Digital mono, Robert Nicolosi's excellent score sounds nice and full. Dialogue is clear and I didn't hear any distortion or noise. An overall excellent mono track.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Considering the origin of horror films of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci etc, it mustn't be easy to assemble a lot of supplement material, but Image has offset this by having Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas (who is an expert on Bava and is currently writing a book about the director) do a commentary. Overall it's very good, he's very easy to listen to (which is actually very important in commentaries) and obviously knows his stuff. He talks a lot about Mario Bava as well as the actors and actresses as they are introduced in the film. He also talks about the meaning behind some scenes and highlights the brilliant camera work and shots. Lucas also knows a lot about how the special effects were done and shares this info with us.

Though there are some gaps it's a nice commentary and is a very good listen especially for those who are new to Mario Bava films. Tim Lucas closes the commentary by saying he hopes you'll join him for Kill Bay Kill! So I guess that DVD will be next to have a commentary, which is cool. Other extras are a theatrical trailer, which looks very nice and is also 16x9 enhanced, Mario Bava biography and filmograghy, Barbara Steele filmograpghy and fa photo and poster gallery. In the commentary Tim Lucas talks about a scene in the Italian version that was removed in all other versions. It's an exchange between Katia and her father Prince Vajda. Lucas goes onto explain that it didn't fit into the film and was likely placed into the film at random. It would have been nice to have included the scene on the DVD as a supplement, but oh well...

Final Thoughts

I'm a big Mario Bava fan and I'm very glad Image plans to release a large amount of some of his greatest horror films uncut as they were meant to be seen. Black Sunday is fabulous and a must see for all horror fans, especially those who love gothic black and white films and Universal's Monster films of the 30s and 40s. The DVD is awesome and has an excellent presentation at a great price ($24.99). Don't miss it!


Image Quality - A
Sound - B+
Supplements - B+

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Not Rated
  • 1 Disc
  • 15 Chapter Stops
  • Dolby Digital Mono

  • Audio Commentary by Video watchdog's Tim Lucas
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo & Poster Gallery

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