Black Sunday
Image Edition
Italy / 1960
Directed by Mario Bava
Barbara Steele
John Richardson
Ivo Garrani
B&W / 87 Minutes / Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Image Entertainment
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New Kino edition (2012)

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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
Universal's classic monsters 'meet' the horrors of Hammer Studios in Mario Bava's sumptuous tale of witchcraft, vampires and ancient family curses. Characteristically, the Italian maestro blends the two aesthetics with a visual palette uniquely his own — creating one of the most emblematic gothic horrors to ever haunt the silver screen. 40 years after its debut, Image Entertainment brings Black Sunday to the U.S. in an uncut, nearly pristine DVD release.
    In 1600s Moldavia (a small country bordering Russia and Rumania), beautiful Asa (Castle of Blood's Barbara Steele), princess of the noble Vajda family, is condemned to death for sorcery and vampirism by the state's Grand Inquisitor — who happens to be her brother. Also to die is Javutich (Arturo Dominici), her lover and partner in deviltry. After the unrepentant Asa places a curse on her own family, a brass mask with spikes on the inside is hammered onto her face. Ouch! (It's not really gory but the scene will still make you wince; it was cut from the American release print.) After the credits the story picks up 200 years later. A pair of doctors, Tomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checci) and his young protégé Adrei Gorobek (Secrets of a Call Girl's John Richardson), are traveling through Moldavia on their way to a medical conference. When their coach breaks down — always an ominous event in gothic horror tales — the two explore a crumbling mausoleum they discover nearby. By accident Kruvajan awakens the undead Asa, who vampirizes the elder doctor. Gorobek is oblivious to the impending danger, enthralled as he is after meeting Katia (Steele again), princess of the house of Vajda. Katia is Asa's dead ringer descendent, whom Asa plans to exchange bodies with as she destroys the rest of the family. To aid the vampire witch in fulfillment of her curse, Asa summons the Dracula-like Javutich up from the grave. Reunited, these undead lovers close in on the house of Vajda.
    With Black Sunday, director Mario Bava (The Whip and the Body, Blood and Black Lace, Planet of the Vampires) has crafted the ultimate gothic horror film. The best elements of Universal and Hammer are combined, melded seamlessly with Bava's eerily poetic, often dream-like sense of the visual. Raven-haired British actress Steele, with her large, piercing eyes, became an instant horror icon with her dual role as the satanic Asa/innocent Katia.
    If you dig gothic tales of the supernatural then this is your film; it's the standard by which all the rest are judged. Those fog-shrouded forests and moon-drenched battlements never looked better.

Image's DVD, part of its excellent Mario Bava Collection, presents the finest print of Black Sunday ever utilized for home video. The Dolby Mono sound is surprisingly clear and resonant considering the film's age. The original theatrical trailer is included, along with a stills/poster gallery and talent bios of Bava and lead actress Steele. The disc's best feature is the marvelous audio commentary by Bava expert  Tim Lucas, editor of Video Watchdog magazine. Exhaustively detailed as it is entertaining, Lucas touches on virtually every aspect of this excellent film. It's one of the best audio commentaries I've yet heard on any DVD. 4/18/01
UPDATE The R1 Image DVD reviewed here went OOP in 2005. A new edition of Black Sunday was issued by Anchor Bay in 2007 as part of the 5-disc Mario Bava Collection, Vol. 1. In September 2012 Kino Lorber is releasing a newly remastered version on both DVD and Blu-ray.