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February 22, 2013

Movie Review: Black Sunday (1960, Blu-ray/DVD combo)

Review By: Rob Sibley

Note: This Blu-ray from Arrow UK is Region-B locked, so you will need an all region Blu player or all region PS3 to view the film.

“Black Sunday” is the text book example for classic Italian Gothic Horror. Directed by the man who pretty much put Italian horror cinema on the map, the maverick Mario Bava. Who not only broke onto the scene with this gothic masterpiece. But also is known for creating the “Giallo” with 1962's The Girl Who Knew Too Much and 1964's Blood and Black Lace. Firmly starting a genre that Dario Argento would make name for himself with before moving onto more supernatural fare later in his career.

Bava's body of work truly speaks for itself. This wasn't a “work man” director. He put more thought and production values into films then most did at the time. Always a master of creating haunting atmospheres with little to no budget. Some say Black Sunday is his masterpiece and I'd have to agree.

The story is set into motion when a princess played with haunting beauty by Barbara Steele is executed. But before having the infamous metal mask filled with nails pounded into her face. She places a curse on all her descendents. Things are calm for the next two centuries or so everyone thinks. The curse is back and along with it is Princess Katja (Also played by Steele).

The plot itself is good, but the second half of the story does lose some steam. But this is never bothersome because your in awe of the sheer atmosphere, set design and style that Bava and his crew of craftsman were able to accomplish.

People have always argued over what was Bava's best film. This one comes up often as well as his classics Bay of Blood, Baron Blood and Lisa and the devil to name a few. But people seem to forget that Bava didn't always direct horror.

He did two non-horror pictures that I just adore. Those being the highly atmospheric and fun “Hercules in the Haunted World”. One of the best of all the Hercules films. Second to me was his tense white knuckle thriller “Kidnapped”. One of the most unappreciated exorcize in pure cold sweat inducing terror I've ever been witnessed too.

But despite how you feel “Black Sunday” was an outstanding debut from the master of Italian horror cinema. It really changed how people looked at Italian cinema, it even was a hit when Roger Corman released it in the US via his American International company. He infamously cut seven minutes from the film, but it still was a huge success.

None of this would have worked if it wasn't for the genius casting of Barbara Steele who was quite bemused at the fact that she became known as a “horror actress”. Considering she had traveled to Italy after a ho-hum career in the US with hopes of working with Federico Fellini. This dream would come true when she worked with him in the seminal classic “8½”.

If your reading this review, you've already seen and love Black Sunday. The big question is after already being released on DVD via Anchor bay, then Blu-ray by Kino. How does this Arrow UK release hold up?

Well it must be stated that Arrow UK has been a bit shaky when they first started releasing Italian horror. Their release of Argento's Tenebrea wasn't up to snuff and their release Even their release of Bava's “Bay of blood” lacked in the transfer department. Well folks, I'm here to take your worries away. This is the best Black Sunday has and ever will look. The transfer is stunning and it even out-does Kino's Blu-ray release of the film. Offered on this Blu-ray are two (yes two) cuts of the film. The original Italian release under the title “Mask of the devil”. Second for the first time in history included is the AIP cut! This alone makes this worthy of a purchase. The transfer for both the original European cut and the shorter AIP cut are just like the film itself. It looks lavish, the blacks are spot on. Contrast is perfect. These prints they used must have been pretty good to start out because the end results are outstanding and they out-do the already great transfer the film received from Kino. Bravo Arrow!

The audio is equally nice, I know the US dubbed track has it's fans but I always felt the dubbing hurt the film. But luckily the second track is the Italian mix with English subtitles. It truly changes the experience of the film and makes things seem less over the top then the English dub did. Neither track will blow your mind audio wise, but they more then get the job done.

Extras... are vast and exhausting. Arrow UK can never be faulted to skimping on the extra's. They always go the extra mile and this release is no exception.

We start out with an introduction by horror expert Alan Jones then move onto the Tim Lucas' audio commentary that's been featured on all the previous releases. The track is a little dry but Tim knows everything you could possibly want to know about Black Sunday and Bava. He's the go to guy for Bava information. He's a walking, talking Bava bible.

Next up is a very nice little interview conducted with Ms. Steele spoken in Italian with English subs. Next are several tv spots and trailers for the film along with a deleted scene. It should be noted the first interview with Steele was culled from the Italian DVD release.

An exhausting but fun “Bava trailer reel” is up next and it features trailers to pretty much every film the man ever made. One of the most interesting extras is the inclusion “I Vampiri (1956)” which was the first Italian horror film to feature sound. Why is this included, well Bava photographed it. Obviously dated, this gives you a good look at the roots of Italian horror and you can even see subtle sprinklings of the Giallo genre before it even got started.

Also to be included in this release is a booklet featuring interviews with Alan Jones, Matt Bailey and a new interview with Barbara Steele.

This is the definitive release of Black Sunday. The film and disk comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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