Arrow Video once again hits a bullseye with two brilliant Mario Bava releases. They’re packed with extras and showcase the Italian horror supremo’s early work in all its gory glory, the first of which is Black Sunday also known as Mask of Satan.
The story opens in Moldavia in 1630 with said devilishly spiked mask about to be nailed onto the faces of accused witch Asa Vajda (scream queen Barbara Steele) and her evil helper for their satanic crimes. Before she is burned at the stake, Asa curses her brother who has sent her to her death vowing that his descendents will feel her revenge.
Two centuries later Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson) are traveling through the mysterious forests of Moldavia on a short-cut that their coachman warns them not to take.
After their coach breaks down the two men of medicine and science take a walk and uncover the final resting place of the long deceased witch. Skeptical of the magical artifacts and superstitious stories told of the powerful sorceress, Dr. Kruvajan thinks nothing when he disrupts the tomb after being attacked by a giant bat and dripping blood onto the dead body.
As the pair journey on to a local inn they are unaware that their actions have awoken the wicked witch and her undead accomplice. Asa has set her sights on the current generation of her brother’s offspring, a family which includes the beautiful Katia (also played by Steele) and plans to destroy them all and be reborn once again.
Story-wise Black Sunday blends elements of Dracula among other things into a caldron overflowing with the spooky staples of a gothic horror. Although it’s not very scary by today’s standards, there is a good amount of gore and menace for a black and white movie.
Mario Bava is now well known as being one of the early horror maestros who kick-started the golden age of Italian horror and thus helped shape the Giallo genre. He not only directed and wrote many movies, but also worked on the special effects and cinematography as well.
Even though this is Bava’s directorial debut you can still see many elements of his latter films, such as Twitch of the Death Nerve and Hatchet for the Honeymoon. You also notice the skill he has for obscure and interesting angles and innovative camera work as all is on show here, elevating the film visually from other horrors of the time.
Black Sunday’s influence can be seen not only in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow and Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula but many movies of the films which open with an inquisition sequence. Black Sunday’s legacy is also evident in Bava’s son Lamberto’s amazing Demons, in fact Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil is a quasi-remake.
As mentioned, the amazing Arrow Video have packed this release with so many features that it’s bursting at the seams. With trailers, TV spots, deleted scenes, commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas, an intro from Alan Jones, an interview with Barbara Steele and more! The best feature is the inclusion 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, available for the first time anywhere in the world.
With solid performances from the cast and a star turn from Steele (playing the vastly different Asa and Katia with aplomb) Black Sunday is a must see for fans of gothic horror. And with Arrow bringing Bava’s debut out in such a complete package it’s a release worth every penny.