BBFC Classification: 15
Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici
As much a part of the framework of modern horror as Psycho or Night of the Living Dead, Mario Bava’s 1960 gothic masterpiece Black Sunday was a controversial film when first released and has continued to be a must-see for genre fans ever since.
In 1630 Moldovia, a witch named Asa (Barbara Steele – Shivers) and her paramour Javuto (Arturo Dominici) are sentenced to die by Asa’s brother. Before being burnt at the stake, a metal mask with spikes on the inside is hammered onto Asa’s face as she curses her brother and his descendents.
Two centuries later, a pair of travellers waiting for their coach to be repaired wander upon Asa’s tomb. After observing the death mask and crucifix placed upon her grave one of the travellers is disturbed by a bat and accidentally smashes the objects placed there for protection, cutting his hand in the process and dripping blood on Asa’s corpse. Outside the pair meet the beauiful Katia (again played by Steele), who tells the men that she lives in a supposedly haunted castle with her father Prince Vajda and brother Constantine.
Meanwhile, thanks to the traveller’s blood Asa has awoken and uses her powers to resurrect Javuto from his grave. Now looking to take revenge on her brother’s descendents, Asa and Javuto go to Prince Vajda’s castle in an attempt to drink Katia’s blood and gain immortality.
In an attempt to recreate the gloomy gothic atmospheres of the classic Universal horror films of the 1930s and ’40s, Bava’s ability to tap into that well and make the film appeal to audiences who, at the time, were getting all excited over Hammer and their use of sex and blood in full colour, was something to be admired.
As are the visuals, which landed the film in hot water with the BBFC back in 1960. Despite being black-and-white, which can hide a multitude of sins with regards to special effects, the details of the acts committed on-screen are there for all to see; the opening scene where the spiked mask is bashed into Asa’s face with a large hammer is as brutal as anything that the Saw series could throw at you.
Featuring the European version of the film – entitled The Mask of Satan – and the re-edited Black Sunday cut, the disc also contains I Vampiri, the first sound-era horror film from Italy. Originally directed by Riccardo Freda in 1956, the film was finished by Mario Bava after Freda walked off the set. A very typical film of the time, i.e. a lot of dialogue and a weak story, it does contain the base elements of what was to follow and is a nice bonus for fans, as are the commentaries and multitude of different trailers.
So it’s a pretty exhaustive collection of goodies and certainly a package worth picking up. The main feature itself stands the test of time, as a benchmark and simply as a good film, and is required viewing for anybody who calls themselves a horror fan. It set the standard for Italian horror cinema and gave inspiration to the likes of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, it cemented Barbara Steele’s reputation as a reluctant Scream Queen and, thanks to Arrow Video, it now has a fantastically packaged definitive edition.
Special Features: High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and standard definition DVD presentation of two versions of the film; The Mask of Satan – the European version with score by Roberto Nicolosi & Black Sunday – the re-edited and re-dubbed AIP version with Les Baxter score, three audio versions: Optional Italian, European English and AIP English re-dub and re-score, audio commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas, introduction to the film by author and critic Alan Jones, interview with star and horror icon Barbara Steele, deleted scene from the Italian version with notes by Tim Lucas, international trailer, US trailer, Italian trailer, TV Spot, I Vampiri (1956) – Italy’s first sound horror film directed by Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava, US I Vampiri trailer The Devil’s Commandment, Mario Bava trailer reel, collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Matt Bailey and Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
UK Release Date: 4th February 2013