Mario Bava (director)
Arrow Films (studio)
Cert 15 (certificate)
04 February 2013 (released)
04 February 2013
From the godfather of Italian horror, Mario Bava, comes one of his most terrifying tales, and with a whole lot of exciting bonus material on top of it.
Black Sunday (aka Mask Of Satan, aka La maschera del demonio) is an Italian gothic horror movie from 1960 that catapulted its female lead, Barbara Steele, to ‘horror icon’ status.
Shot in atmospheric b/w and partially in and around the rented castle of Arsoli in the province of Rome, the plot is loosely based on the short story ‘Viy’ by Nikolaj Gogol.
The film begins with one of the most gruesome scenes in the history of horror cinema, promptly causing the censors in several countries to step in and ban the film outright (or at least demand a heavy cut).
The prologue is set in Moldavia in the early 17th century, where we witness the execution of local witch Asa (B. Steele), and her lover and partner in crime, Ivor Javutich (Arturo Dominici). Both are bound to a stake but before the stake is lit, an iron mask (the mask of Satan) with nasty spikes on the inside is hammered onto Asa’s face. It makes death by fire preferable! In fact, it’s this very scene which was deemed too horrific for 1960’s sensibilities, causing much controversy at the time of the film’s release. To be fair, it does make your blood curl just looking at the executioner holding up the mask, never mind the actual act!
However, before the mask is nailed onto her face, Asa curses her bystanders and above all, her brother and his descendants, who condemned her as a witch in the first place. The curse seems to work immediately, for it starts to rain heavily and the flames are extinguished before they reach the bodies of the condemned. The bystanders flee in fear and panic, while later that night, the remains of Javutich are buried in unconsecrated ground. Asa’s remains are buried in a crypt, complete with the mask on her face.
Forward two centuries, and we are still in Moldavia. Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his young assistant, Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson), are on their way to a medical conference when the carriage breaks down. While the coach driver attempts to repair the broken wheel, Kruvajan and Gorobec discover the nearby crypt and curiosity gets the better of them. That’s unfortunate, as they also discover Asa’s tomb inside! Peeping through the coffin’s glass lid, Kruvajan is intrigued by Asa’s strange mask and, breaking the glass panel, removes it. Bad mistake, and karma instantly takes revenge when he gets attacked by a bat. In the process, the doctor cuts himself on the broken glass and blood drips onto Asa’s still remarkably preserved face. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is the beginning of the witches’ resurrection…
Meanwhile, and back in the outside world, Kruvajan and Gorobec make the acquaintance of beautiful Katia (also played by Barbara Steele). She tells them that she lives with her father, Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani), and her brother Constantine (Enrico Oliveiri) in a nearby castle believed to be haunted. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is the beginning of a budding romance between Katia and young Dr. Gorobec…
Back in the tomb, Asa – increasingly restored – uses her willpower to command her former lover Javutich to rise from his grave. And so he does (in another blood-curdling scene), making his way direction castle to spread terror and havoc.
Not to be outdone, Asa – looking ghastly with her deep wounds from the mask’s spikes still intact – plans on taking over the body of Katia and thus made immortal, continue her planned acts of revenge. Before that moment arrives, several other people find a bloody end.
Black Sunday has stood the test of time more than well, thanks to some of the film’s most memorable sequences which include not only the gruesome execution, but also an eerie coach rolling through the night in slow motion – shrouded in supernatural fog. The terror that unfolds inside the castle is at times particularly unnerving.
The duel format DVD & Blu-ray deluxe editions come with three different audio versions, intro by film critic Alan Jones, audio commentary, interview with Barbara Steele, various trailers, collector’s booklet, reversible sleeve, and I Vampiri (1956) – Italy’s first ever sound-era horror film directed by Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava. Also available are strictly limited ‘Slipbox Editions’ (available via www.arrowfilms.co.uk) which feature a 4-panel reversible sleeve, 3 original posters and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humpreys.
Black Sunday? This release is more like a Happy Monday!