Combustible Celluloid
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With: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, Arturo Dominici, Enrico Olivieri, Antonio Pierfederici, Tino Bianchi, Clara Bindi, Mario Passante, Renato Terra, Germana Dominici
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Mario Serandrei, based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol
Directed by: Mario Bava
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 87
Date: 08/11/1960

Black Sunday (1960)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Every Witch Way

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Apparently based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, Black Sunday (a.k.a. The Mask of Satan) was Mario Bava's first film as director and a huge hit for distributor American International Pictures, though this version is actually Bava's preferred cut.

Ironically, this black-and-white film is still his best known work, even though Bava's greatest skill is his use of color. Nonetheless, the striking, gothic imagery demonstrates Bava's extraordinary skill with light and motion and shadow, used to suggest unholy things. It contains such memorable images as a witch's face dotted with punctures from a sinister mask, as well as leering portraits, twisted tree branches and strangling spider-webs.

Barbara Steele stars as a resurrected witch and her modern-day double. She and some ghost/witch/vampire cohorts try to possess the modern girl's living body. A young doctor (John Richardson) tries to help, and -- of course -- falls in love with her.

The sensuous, powerful Steele captivated filmgoers everywhere and offered a whole new subtle alternative to the day's sensational films like The Giant Gila Monster.

In 2012, Kino Lorber released a glorious new Blu-ray edition, with a rich black-and-white transfer. The source material isn't pristine, so don't expect perfection, but do expect an unforgettable experience. Bava biographer Tim Lucas provides an in-depth commentary track, which includes details about the AIP cut. There are trailers for other Bava features, including two other Kino releases (Lisa and the Devil and Hatchet for the Honeymoon) as well as a high-def trailer for Baron Blood.

In 2015, Kino Lorber released a Blu-ray containing the American cut of Black Sunday (1960). Black Sunday is shortened by about 3 minutes, cutting "objectionable" material, voices are dubbed into English, and an entirely different score, by Les Baxter, is used. I wish this cut had been placed as an extra on the original disc, but perhaps it was for quality reasons (not taking up too much space on the disc). Nonetheless, for Bava completists this movie is worth owning in both versions.

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