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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Black Sunday (Blu-ray)
Black Sunday (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // February 24, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted February 1, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

When this masterpiece of gothic horror begins, an accused witch named Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) has the Mask Of Satan pounded onto her face before she's burned at the stake. As she's about to be burnt the skies open up and the rain pours down. Though she is killed, her body does not burn and is instead laid to rest in a coffin with a cross on top to ensure that her evil dies with her corpse. Before she passes, however, she swears she will destroy the Vajda family responsible for her execution.

Two hundred years later, a pair of travelers, Doctor Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant Gorobec (John Richardson), find an old tomb while exploring the woods near the road where their carriage has become stranded. As the coachman is making the repairs, they inadvertently spill some blood on the tomb inside, which of course is where Asa was laid to rest. What they don't realize is that with this simple act, she has been resurrected. Meanwhile, a beautiful girl who turns out to be Princess Katia Vajda (Barbara Steele again) shows up. Asa's ghost, with the help of her trusty man servant (Arturo Dominici), attempts to possess Katia's body so that she can fulfill her promise and kill off her father, Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani), therefore fulfilling the promise she made centuries ago.

Widely considered one of Bava's best pictures and a milestone in Italian gothic horror, Black Sunday (also known as The Mask Of Satan) is a fantastic exercise in mood, atmosphere and suspense. A few remarkably sinister set pieces punctuate the film (Asa's initial death scene and her subsequent resurrection both stand out as hallmarks of the macabre) and the creepy black and white cinematography really captures the macabre atmosphere of the many more subtle moments in the film. Small details in the set design, the lighting, the effects and the backgrounds all work together to enrich the tone that Bava has created here. The results are visually stunning and completely satisfying.

While the supporting cast is adequate, it's Barbara Steele who really makes this picture. In an interesting double role she's an eerie amalgamation of all things sexy and sinister. The clever cinematography really does an amazing job of accentuating her piercing dark eyes and distinctive features to the point that the audience can completely buy her in the role. There are some quirks in the storyline where it slows down a little more than it has to or where maybe things feel a little forced but the movie just looks fantastic. Here Bava makes such excellent use of his leading lady that it's more difficult to concentrate on the film's small flaws then to simply bask in the imagery.

Kino previously released the European version of the film on Blu-ray, sporting the Mask Of Satan title card. American International Pictures distributed this film in North America and when they did, the film was dubbed and the original Roberto Nicolesi score was replaced with a very different one from Les Baxter. This is the version included on this recent release. The English dubbing featured on this cut differs from the European cut and on top of that we get a hyperbolic warning pre-credits and, of course, the Black Sunday title card in place of the original Mask Of Satan title card. Some of the strong content contained in the European cut is cut short here, and the film runs just under three minutes shorter in this version than it does in its full strength cut. As such, it doesn't really improve on it in any way, but it does make for an interesting addition to the Mario Bava Blu-ray library.

The Blu-ray:

The Video:

Black Sunday debuts on Blu-ray from Kino in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.66.1 widescreen, the proper aspect ratio for the picture. The transfer here does sport some minor print damage but otherwise the black and white image looks very nice. Grain is apparent but not distracting and detail is strong, as is texture. Contrast looks good, black levels are strong and deep and there are no obvious issues with any edge enhancement, compression artifacts or noise reduction issues.

Sound:

The only audio option for the disc is an DTS-HD Mono track in English. Dialogue is clean and clear and the levels are properly balanced. There aren't any issues with hiss or distortion and for an older mono dubbed mix, the audio here sounds just fine. The score contains a bit more punch than it had on DVD, which is nice, and it manages to do so without burying the dialogue. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided on this disc.

Extras:

Extras are slim, limited to a US trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Bava titles available from Kino, menus and chapter selection. On the flip side of the insert cover we do get a nice selection of poster art for the film though.

Final Thoughts:

The AIP version of Black Sunday isn't necessarily better but it will be familiar to a certain segment of the American viewing populace and it's a perfectly valid alternate version of Bava's amazing directorial debut. While for many of us the European cut is the ‘go to' version this is an interesting variant and wholly worthy of its own Blu-ray release. Kino's disc is light on extras but it looks and sounds good and the movie itself is fantastic in either cut. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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