Kino Lorber // 1960 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // September 26th, 2012
STARE INTO THESE EYES!
In 17th Century Moldavia, beautiful Princess Aja Vajda(Barbara Steele, Nightmare Castle) is accused of witchcraft -- by her brother. Aja and her lover are chained up, and before they're burned, they have a spike-filled devil's mask hammered onto their faces. The fires are supposed to purify their souls, but a mysterious storm puts out the flames. Aja is buried in a crypt with a crucifix near her head to prevent her from resurrecting.
Two hundred years later, a doctor (Andrea Checchi, A Bullet for the General) and his young assistant (John Richardson, Torso) are passing through the area when they happen upon Aja's crypt. An accident -- perhaps -- occurs, destroying the crucifix and causing the doctor's blood to drip on Aja's corpse; Aja, whose body never fully decayed, is resurrected.
Now Aja -- who, as it happens, actually was a witch and not some innocent victim -- is ready to avenge herself. She can raise the dead, enslave the unwilling, cause all manner of destruction -- and thanks to her beautiful, look-alike descendent Katia (also Steele), possibly inhabit a new body to continue her reign of terror.
Grim, tense, creepy, and with a palpable sexual undercurrent, Mario Bava's Black Sunday is the quintessential gothic chiller. A masterpiece of pervasive horror, Black Sunday has, perhaps, lost some of its power to shock, but none of its power to thrill.
Bava's first credited film as a director is a genre landmark. Based loosely on a story by Nikolai Gogol, Bava trades on style and atmosphere, as well as some pretty gruesome scares. The look is at once lush and decadent: Drops of blood fall on the rotting face of a long-dead witch...languorous pans through an old castle or a crypt give way to sudden zooms of terrified eyes or morbid flesh...the iconic image of a spiked devil's mask being hammered into the face of a beautiful woman...and moments that range from bone-chilling creepy to flat-out horrifying.
And of course, there's the unbearably beautiful Barbara Steele, perhaps the most enigmatic of gorgeous cult icons, who gets not one, but two stunning entrances: first as the evil Aja, about to be burned at the stake, and later as the virginal Katia, framed in the entranceway to the crypt. Actually, if you include her "entrance" as the resurrected Aja, it would be three stunning entrances, which must be some sort of record. Referring to the evil Aja, one character observes, "She tortured her victims with her beauty!" No doubt...
Kino International is releasing Black Sunday (Blu-ray) as part of its Mario Bava collection. The tech here is very good; the 1.66/1080p high-def image is probably the best Black Sunday has ever looked on home video, and the PCM 2.0 mono track is clear and solid. The main supplement, a commentary by writer Tim Lucas, has been ported over from earlier releases.
So, what's missing here? Well, besides a few bells-and-whistle-type extras to make the upgrade more appealing (a Bava doc? an alternate commentary?), what would have made this a must-own would have been the inclusion of the original, Italian-language version. Like many foreign films of the time, Black Sunday was filmed without sound and with the actors all speaking in their native languages, then dubbed for international release. These films often had different dub tracks; in fact, one of the trailers on this disc features dialogue that's different from what we hear in the film.
The dubbing here is a pretty mixed bag. Mouth movements are reasonably well synched up, but some of the voices, particularly the supporting players, sound a little goofy, and some of the dialogue sounds a little off (particularly when Aja tries to seduce someone by extolling the virtues of "hating").
Kino offers a very good tech upgrade for Black Sunday, but the lack of substantial new supplements or audio/subtitle options is disappointing. The film is great, the image is very good, and it gets a recommend, but not as strong as it could.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* 1.66:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* TV Spots