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A Bavarian princess, burned at the stake with her lover for being a witch, comes to life after three hundred years to enact the curse of revenge on her remaining family members.
For more about Black Sunday and the Black Sunday Blu-ray release, see Black Sunday Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on February 4, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri
Director: Mario Bava
» See full cast & crew
Black Sunday Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, February 4, 2013
Mario Bava's "La maschera del demonio" a.k.a "The Mask of Satan" (1960) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Arrow Video. The supplemental features on the release include the AIP version of the film, "Black Sunday"; original trailers; video interview with Barbara Steele; audio commentary by Tim Lucas; rare deleted scene; the first Italian horror film of the sound era, "I Vampiri" (1956); and more. The release also arrives with a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the films by Matt Bailey and Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters, as well as a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys. In English or Italian, with optional English and English SDH subtitles. Region-B "locked".
Mario Bava's horror debut The Mask of Satan opens up with an impressive prologue that sets the tone for the entire film. In it the beautiful witch Asa (Barbara Steele, Young Torless, The Maniacs) is sentenced to death by her own brother, Griabby, the second-born son of Prince Vajda, because she has accepted the Devil together with her lover Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion). Before she dies -- after a large metal mask covered with nails on the inside is hammered onto her face -- Asa places a curse on Griabby and vows to return stronger than ever before to torment and destroy throughout the night of time. Later on, her body is placed in the tomb of her ancestors.
Two centuries later, Dr. Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi, Roma citta libera) and his young assistant, Dr. Gorobec (John Richardson, One Million Years B.C.), are on their way to Moscow to attend an important conference. High up in the Moldavian mountains, they decide to take a short cut so that they could spend the night in the city of Mirgorod. But their carriage busts a wheel and they are forced to stop. While waiting for the coachman to fix it, Dr. Kruvajan and Dr. Gorobec wander into an abandoned burial chamber where they discover Asa's sarcophagus. Then Dr. Kruvajan accidentally breaks the big glass piece that covers Asa's mask. He also cuts his hand and his blood drips inside the mask. Shortly after they leave, Asa comes alive.
Outside the chamber, Dr. Kruvajan and Dr. Gorobec encounter the beautiful Princess Katja (also played by Steele), who looks exactly like Asa and lives in the nearby castle together with her father Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani, The Leopard) and brother Constantine (Enrico Oliveiri, The Guilty). Deeply moved by Katja's sad but beautiful eyes, Dr. Gorobec promises that they will meet again.
Meanwhile, the angry Asa summons Javutich from his grave -- the short scene where he slowly rises and then removes the metal mask from his face is one of the most atmospheric in the entire film -- and he immediately heads to the castle to kill Prince Vajda. The old man fends him off with his crucifix but then collapses. Katja quickly dispatches one of her servants to the local inn where Dr. Kruvajan and Dr. Gorobec are staying. When later on the two arrive in the castle, all hell breaks loose.
Very loosely based on a short story by the legendary Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol, Bava's The Mask of Satan is a deeply atmospheric film that blends the elegance of Universal's classic monster films and the simplicity and directness of the Gothic horror films Britain's Hammer Films produced during the 1950s.
Operating with a modest budget, Bava shot The Mask of Satan at Cinecittà Studios in Rome over the course of approximately six weeks. In addition to the Italian studio version of the film, Bava also shot an English-language version for Samuel Z. Arkoff and James Nicholson's American International Pictures (AIP). This new version, which was edited, recut, and re-scored (Roberto Nicolosi's incredibly powerful original score was replaced with a new, far less intense score composed by Les Baxter), was then released in America under the alternative title Black Sunday in 1961.
Though somewhat uneven at times, The Mask of Satan is clearly the superior film. It is full of energy, at times shockingly violent but also beautifully lensed film that isn't easy to forget. Despite the fact that the film's script was altered several times after shooting had already began, the cast is also impressive. Steele, in particular, is exceptional playing the evil witch Asa and the mysterious beauty Katja.
Arrow Video's Blu-ray release of The Mask of Satan contains the original uncut studio version of the film running at approximately 87 minutes, in English and Italian, as well as the edited AIP version, Black Sunday, which runs at approximately 83 minutes.
Black Sunday Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.69:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Mario Bava's The Mask of Satan arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Arrow Video. Also included on this disc is the AIP version of the film, Black Sunday, which is also encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer.
Please note that the screencaptures included with this review appear in the following order:
1. Screencaptures #2-20 are from The Mask of Satan.
2. Screencaptures #21-29 are from Black Sunday.
The high-definition transfer for The Mask of Satan appears to be virtually identical to the one Kino Lorber used for their Blu-ray release of the film in the United States. I did some direct comparisons between the two and depth and clarity appear to be identical, both outdoor and indoor footage. Contrast levels are also identical. The solid blacks and the gentle grays and whites also appear with the exact same saturation levels on the Arrow Video release.
The high-definition transfer has not been struck from a recent restoration. Naturally, there are some inherited age-related inconsistencies, such as light fading around the edges and sporadic small frame skips. There are also tiny scratches and flecks that occasionally pop up. Additionally, it appears that when the master was prepared - most likely for an older DVD release - some minor noise corrections were performed. However, none of them affect dramatically the integrity of the image. On the contrary, light grain is retained, though admittedly it isn't always evenly distributed. Lastly, there are no traces of problematic sharpening corrections. Compression is also satisfactory.
Black Sunday also looks good. In fact, there are portions of the film where contrast levels are slightly better balanced. There are no serious compression issues to report. Detail and clarity are as convincing as those observed on The Mask of Satan.
To sum it all up, even though there is clearly room for different sizable improvements, Bava's The Mask of Satan looks good on Blu-ray. Depth in particular is far better when one compares the Blu-ray release with previous DVD releases. The better compression also makes a big difference. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Black Sunday Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are three standard audio tracks on this Blu-ray release: English LPCM 2.0 and Italian LPCM 2.0 for The Mask of Satan and English LPCM 2.0 for Black Sunday. For the record, Arrow Video have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the English tracks and optional English subtitles for the Italian track.
The lossless English track on The Mask of Satan has good depth and even a decent range of nuanced dynamics. Some minor fluctuations are noticeable during select sequences but none of them ever become distracting. Light background hiss occasionally sneaks in but does not affect clarity. The dialog is stable and easy to follow. However, I must point out that even though the majority of the actors spoke their lines in English, they were later on overdubbed. Naturally, some minor sync issues remain.
Black Sunday Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Black Sunday Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fans of Mario Bava's work should consider adding this beautiful release of his horror debut, The Mask of Satan, to their collections. Not only does it look very good in high-definition, but Arrow Video have also included the little seen AIP version of the film, Black Sunday. The release also comes with an impressive selection of supplemental features, which also include the first Italian horror film of the sound era, I Vampiri. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Black Sunday: Other Editions
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Black Sunday Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Black Sunday and Lisa and the Devil Officially Announced - January 7, 2013
British distributors Arrow Video have officially announced and detailed their upcoming Blu-ray releases of Mario Bava's classic horror films Black Sunday (1960) and Lisa and the Devil (1974). The two releases will be available for purchase on January 28th.
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