BLACK SUNDAY (1960) Reviews and overview

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‘The undead demons of Hell terrorize the world in an orgy of stark horror’

Black Sunday is a 1960 Italian gothic horror film directed by Mario Bava from a screenplay written by Ennio de Concini, Mario Serandrei and (uncredited) Marcello Coscia. Original title: La maschera del demonio; also known as The Mask of Satan and, in the UK, as Revenge of the Vampire

The movie stars Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Arturo Dominici and Ivo Garrani.

The film was Bava’s official directorial debut, although he had completed several previous feature films without credit. Based very loosely on Nikolai Gogol’s short story “Viy”, the narrative concerns a vampire-witch who is put to death by her own brother, only to return 200 years later to feed on her descendants.

By the social standards of the 1960s, Black Sunday was considered unusually gruesome and was banned in the UK until 1968 because of its violence. In the U.S., some of the bloodletting was censored, in-house, by the distributor American International Pictures (AIP) before its theatrical release.

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Despite the censorship, Black Sunday was a worldwide critical and box office success and launched the careers of director Mario Bava and movie star Barbara Steele.

In 2004, one of the film’s sequences was voted number 40 among the “100 Scariest Movie Moments” by the Bravo TV network.



In Moldavia, in the year 1630, beautiful witch Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and her paramour Javuto (Arturo Dominici) are sentenced to death for sorcery by Asa’s brother. Before being burned at the stake, Asa vows revenge and puts a curse on her brother’s descendants. A metal mask with sharp spikes on the inside is placed over the witch’s face and hammered repeatedly into her flesh.

Two centuries later, DoctorThomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi) and his assistant Doctor Andre Gorobec (John Richardson), are travelling through Moldavia en route to a medical conference when one of the wheels of their carriage is broken, requiring immediate repair. While waiting for their coachman to fix it, the two wander into a nearby ancient crypt and discover Asa’s tomb.

Observing her death mask through a glass panel, Kruvajan breaks the panel (and the cross above it) by accident while striking a bat. He then removes Asa’s death mask revealing a partially preserved corpse that is visible underneath, her face staring out malevolently. He cuts his hand on the broken glass. Some of his blood drips onto Asa’s dead face…

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“Asa’s masterfully-illuminated crypt is a moody accomplishment in itself, and her vivid resurrection into this world — and the grand exploding coffin sequence that follows — is enough to bring chills to the spine of anyone with a flair for cinematic innovation. The same goes for Bava’s unparalleled real-time ageing effects, which were accomplished by the simple usage of filters and lighting. Finally, Bava takes an unprecedented first in film by adding more blood and gore than most contemporary moviegoers were accustomed to seeing in 1960.” Blog Critics

“Here, the art house and horror meet seamlessly, creating a world that’s as beautiful and ethereal as it is haunting and atmospheric.” Talk of Horrors

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“Grisly stuff. At the same time, Black Sunday is strikingly beautiful in its crumbling sets and stark, chiaroscuro lighting. Bava served as his own cinematographer, and the combination of his expert lensing and the suitably gloomy production design generates a sublime gothic mood. As for Barbara Stelle, well, death becomes her—she’s enchantingly wicked here.”


High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation 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, on home video for the first time
Three audio versions: Optional Italian, European English and AIP English re-dub and re-score
English SDH subtitles for both English versions and a new English subtitle translation of the Italian audio
Audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas
Introduction to the film by author and critic Alan Jones
Interview with star and horror icon Barbara Steele
Deleted Scene from the Italian version with notes by Tim Lucas
International Trailer
US Trailer
Italian Trailer
TV Spot
I Vampiri (1956) Italy s first sound horror film directed by Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava
US I Vampiri Trailer The Devil’s Commandment
Trailer reel trailers of all the major works by Mario Bava including rarities from the early part of his career
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Matt Bailey and Alan Jones illustrated with original archive stills and posters

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Choice dialogue:

“Don’t you feel the joy and the beauty of hating?”

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