on June 9, 2004
This is certainly a minor stylistic masterpiece. It creates atmosphere that is thick, foreboding, and claustrophobic. The story, however, is not worthy of such a lush, lavish treatment. It just doesn't possess any emotional depth. The whole film is Barbara Steele's eyes. They possess power that the film as a whole simply does not. The fog the film is enveloped in is not pervasive enough to mask the bitter emptiness of the tale being conveyed. It is difficult to criticize the film on its cinematic qualities. Nevertheless, the story does not mesmerize, tantalize or excite beyond those moments when Asa is moaning in her blood ecstasy. Indeed, my grandest (futile) wish was for Asa to slaughter them all and then to hit the road looking for more victims to prey upon.
Barbara Steele weeps, shrieks, sighs, faints, screams, moans, gasps, and is undeniably fascinating to watch. She is far more interesting as Asa. As Katia, she is a cipher. She's drained of life and hysterical to boot. Asa has activated her will (if the undead can even be said to possess a will--the will of Satan?). Katia is receptive, helpless and boring. She's just a lonely princess longing for her prince (yawn). It isn't Ms. Steele's fault--the character is simply dismal. She's the "good" girl--she doesn't have to do anything, except mope about in a perfectly awful hairdo. The rest of the cast are perfectly plastic--save for Arturo Dominici as Javutich. He's a fine match for Ms. Steele and wondefully terrible. He has presence that the others lack.
Still, the film is simply gorgeous. The story might not be my glass of Absinthe, but the film is still visually stunning. It lacks emotion and depth--but it makes up for it somewhat in the sheer power of its images. Obvious films that clearly map out the binary opposites at play are just not that intriguing. When you know from the start that virtue will win and evil will be destroyed, it kind of takes the thrill out of the whole thing.
on January 18, 2004
BLACK SUNDAY (aka THE MASK OF SATAN) marks the directorial debut of prolific horror director Mario Bava, and what a debut! The story, a Gothic masterpiece about vampirism being an extension of Satan worship, is quite interesting. Barbara Steel, the first horror starlet, or scream queen, is amazingly beautiful and quite good as the evil Princess Asa, who curses her family after being condemned as a witch, and Princess Katia, her ancestor. A chairjumper every five minutes! It lulls you asleep and then slaps you awake with the next scary moment. True suspense is being built up as the plot goes along nice and slow (even under an hour and a half!) The whole film is gorgeous and really showed me that a black-and-white movie can be just as scary and cringe-inducing as one in bright color.
Yes, Mario Bava is the founding father of Italian horror as we know it! Not only is he a great director, but he is an excellent cameraman and special effects artist, just to name a few other things he did in his movies. Thanks to Bava, we have masterpieces from other great directors as Dario Argento (SUSPIRIA, DEEP RED, TENEBRE, INFERNO), Lucio Fulci (DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, ZOMBIE, THE BEYOND), and even Mario's own son Lamberto (MACABRE, A BLADE IN THE DARK, DEMONS 1 & 2). Hell, even the Bavas helped Argento on occasion (Mario directed that awesome underwater sequence in INFERNO, and Lamberto was assistant director on that and TENEBRE). So remember, when you think about how awesome Italian horror movies were back in the day and all the masterpieces that came out of that country, remember Mario Bava. And watch BLACK SUNDAY and all of his other movies!
on February 3, 2004
If you are a true horror connoseur of great horror films, BLACK SUNDAY or THE MASK OF SATAN, belongs in your repertoire of those films which defined what "horror" movies should be about.
Mario Bava's first film is full of eloquent imagery, darkly atmospheric sets and lighting, and an almost palpable sense of doom. Barbara Steele, who went on with Hazel Court, to be the true scream queens of the sixties, is perfect in the dual role of the witch and her descendant; Bava knew that Steele's beauty is not of the usual kind and he used his lens to soften some of her harshness, but yet to ignite those gorgeous eyes. Steele also knew how to handle the camera, how to peer not only into the eyes of her fellow actors, but into your eyes as well.
John Richardson's boyish handsomeness is a perfect contrast to Steele's dark beauty. (Only complaint about DVD is the obvious dubbing, with "radio dj" voices that at times lessened the impact of the movie). The silent stagecoach ride is as many readers have commented one of the eeriest scenes captured on celluloid.
This is a frightening movie, way ahead of its time, and maintains a crude brilliance that is still penetrating today.
on October 21, 2001
Mario Bava’s Black Sunday is an early example of the Italian horror genre which would later be defined by the likes of directors Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci and may best characterized by an abundance of gore, zombies, and misogynism.
While Black Sunday (originally titled ‘The Mask of Satan’), being released in 1960, does not employ the extreme graphic violence that would later manifest with the genre, it does have its share of the macabre and interesting visuals.
The opening witch-burning sequence is by far the film’s most memorable moment, and it’s most gruesome -- the sadism towards women is already beginning. We see the bare back of the witch branded, then in amazement, I watched as the ‘Mask of Satan,’ which is lined on the inside with nails is placed over the witches face as her head rests against the stake and then pounded home with an enormous wooden mallet by a muscled, black-hooded executioner. In a black-and-white film from 1960. Having shouted out, “NO THEY DIDN’T!!!…” I had to rewind the shot a couple times.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the film plays more like a Scooby Doo episode with some of the most absolutely braindead detective work of all time on display, but from what I gather, the Italian horror films are more about atmosphere and images than good acting and well written plots. Black Sunday is loaded with morbid atmosphere as a doctor discovers the dead witch’s crypt and, after being attacked by a ridiculous looking fake bat, is compelled to pry the mask off to reveal her insect-covered face with gaping eye sockets. There are many underlying necrophilia currents and later in the film he kisses the dead-for-two-hundred-years-nail-hole-havin'-face witch. The constant billowing fog and crumbling crypt ruins definitely create an unsettling atmosphere if you allow yourself to look past the dated ‘thriller’ soundtrack and bad dialogue. There is also an absolutely superb shot where a ghostly carriage is filmed in slow motion coming down the road.
I found Black Sunday somewhat fascinating for its time period...
on July 18, 2002
"In the 17th century, Satan was abroad on the Earth and great was the wrath against those monstrous beasts thirsty for human blood that traditions have given the name of vampires."
Such is the opening narration of the Masks of Satan, or Black Sunday. Princess Asa is burned by the inquisition of the High Court of Moldavia, who have also executed her partner-in-crime, Igor Javutic. She curses the House of Vajda, and her face affixed with the mask of satan, a facial iron maiden. There is an effective closeup of her frightened face before the masked executioner slams a heavy wooden sledge onto the satanic mask! Ouch, that's really gotta hurt! She would've been burned at the stake and that would be the end of it, had it not been for a thunderstorm. Instead, she is interred in her crypt and Javutic buried in unconsecrated ground.
Two centuries pass, say sometime in the 1840's. I say that due to the coachman's remark of having fought Napoleon's army, and estimating his age. Asa is accidentally awakened by Dr. Kruvayan, the older of two Russian doctors en route to a medical conference. Soon after, a slew of deaths involving anyone connected with the House of Vajda occur, and Princess Katya, who is a dead ringer for Asa, seems to be the prime target. She is helped by Andrei Gorobek, Kruvayan's younger colleague, who has taken a shine to her, and vows to get to the bottom of things ("We're in the presence of some unnatural mystery.")
Barbara Steele is brilliant here as the gentle but frightened Katya, and as the strong and evil Asa, scoring better in the latter role, with lines such as "Don't you feel joy in the beauty of hating?" and "Come kiss me, my lips will transform you." The scars on her face from the mask are explicit for 1960.
As for Igor Javutic, the painting of him resembles a painting of Vlad the Impaler I've seen in a book on Dracula, and Arturo Dominici is perfect realized as a live incarnation of said painting.
Horror is not just madmen slashing away at nubile young women, but the tense atmosphere created by the dark forces at work. The resurrection of Javutic is just one example. And the scene where the Prince of Vajda notices the change in the painting and sees the mask appear in his hot toddy is accompanied by dramatic music, most of which is chilling. However, in scenes between Andrei and Katya, some romantic Rachmaninoff-sounding piano comes on cue.
Black Sunday really set the stage for effective horror films. It's full of scary effects: eerie wind blowing, a thunderstorm with lightning, invisible forces at work, secret passages, vampires with claws, and realistic corpses. And its being shot in black-and-white gives a boost to the cinematography and lighting.
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 19, 2001
Let me start by saying Barbara Steele is just plain weird looking. She is not unattractive. She is just...disturbing. Maybe that is why she fits so well into the role of an ancient witch condemned to death, a horrible iron mask nailed to her face.
Time passes and some travellers wander into her crypt despite their coach driver's warning. And of course they manage to break the wards and symbols that keep her from returning to life.
Black Sunday features great set design and an oppressively dark mood that oozes evil and menace in every scene. Apparently the film is available in two versions. I think I got the bad one. One version is heavily edited but features voicework by the original actors in english and better overall sound quality. I bought the extended version which unfortunately has some pretty bad voice acting.
Buy Black Sunday if you like classic horror movies such as the old Universal monster films, but wish that they didn't pull their punches so much. I would have given Black Sunday 5 stars, but the voice acting in my version is going to cost it a star. Still, most people suggest this version (the full version) over the shorter version, so the choice comes down to your own preference.
on December 5, 2000
Image Entertainment has unleashed on DVD the most satanic valentine to gothic cinema ever conceived-and at least in this writer's opinion, the greatest horror film ever made. BLACK SUNDAY is not merely equal to the best of Murnau, Whale, Freund and the classic Universal Pictures tradition, but surpasses all with M.C. Escheresque visuals informed with the dark poetry of stylish sadism. Barbara Steele imbues her portrayal of the vampire/witch with a demonic majesty never before brought to the screen. Indeed, her skeletal facial features, a landscape of puncture wounds bearing forth wild, burning eyes and thick, cruel lips (promising the joys of eternal Hades) is itself the very ensign of Italian fantascienza of the Sixties.
The plot will not be retold here (but is in my full summary in Films in Review online).
Aside from the drop-dead gorgeous visual presentation, the audio commentary by Tim Lucas is definitive. We ardent lovers of Bava wait in sheer anticipation of his book on the subject (due in 2001).
Most noteworthy missed opportunities in this stellar effort is Barbara Steele's participation in the analog track. The presentation of the film in its beautiful Italian (which runs longer as there are scenes deleted from ALL USA & European versions should have ben included. Indeed, the American-International print with the much maligned (and unfairly so) Les Baxter score should have been included. However, this effort is a 5-star, full thrust knockout and belongs in every serious horror film buff's collection.
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 January 8, 2000
Black Sunday AKA The Mask Of Satan was one of the most loving visual tributes to the classic gothic horrors of the past. I just got the new DVD of the film and it is absolutely amazing. The black and white picture quality is stellar, very reminiscent to the crystal sharpness of the Boris Karloff Thriller TV show but shot by the cinematography master Mario Bava. Imagine a photographic art book, with all of the vibrant black and white imagery you would expect from such a high publication. But this one moves! I wish the Universal Classic Horror DVDs could somehow look this good! The menu is a lot of fun, looking like old lobby cards with a Paul Frees voice over from some old promo ad. The commentary track, while containing some stretches of silence, is very very informative. Plus, an equally crystal sharp trailer, posters, pics, and notes.
The film is a bit gruesome and gory at moments, but you could not find better black and white Gothic Horror eye candy anywhere! Bravo to all involved on the movie and the DVD! I believe that Image is coming out with a VHS tape as well.