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[aka Black Sunday aka The Demon’s Mask aka Revenge Of The Vampire aka House Of Fright aka Masque Du Demon]

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  • The film is reviewed here
  • Released by: Image Entertainment (http://www.image-entertainment.com)
  • Running time: 86:37
  • Chapter stops: 14
  • Aspect ratio: 1.66
  • Enhancement: 16 x 9
  • Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
  • Region coding: Not coded
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Picture: As part of Image Entertainment’s "Mario Bava Collection", this disc contains the uncut print of Bava’s La Maschera Del Demonio. This includes the original credits, complete with the misspelling of Barbara Steele’s name ("Steel") and the entirely inappropriate superimposition of the "Jolly Film" logo over the image of the executed Asa! The print contains a few very minor imperfections. There is some white flecking at different times, most noticeably when Kruvajan and Andrej enter the crypt. A couple of lightning bolt-like scratches are present, and the picture breaks up twice, very briefly, towards the end. Other than these tiny flaws, the print quality is stunning. This is the kind of film that you should show to those stupid people who "don’t like black and white movies". Incredible – unthinkable – that it was almost made in colour! The excellence of the transfer allows the viewer to appreciate fully Bava’s cinematography, which is rich and gorgeous, creating an appropriately dream-like atmosphere, and also the director’s painting-like compositions and attention to detail.

Sound: The soundtrack is mono only, but is clear and even throughout. This version of the film contains Roberto Nicolosi’s original score, which was replaced in the AIP version by a score written by Les Baxter (I haven’t seen the AIP version, so I can’t compare the two). Nicolosi’s music is, on the whole, excellent (although I must confess, I find the signature "Katia’s Theme" a trifle overflowery), and is appropriately used throughout. The clearness of the soundtrack allows the viewer to appreciate as well both the film’s silences, and its careful use of sound effects. Particularly striking are the sound of Asa’s nails scraping the stones of her shattered tomb; the soft croaking of frogs as Kruvajan stands by the pond in the moonlight; and Kruvajan and Javutich’s entrance to the castle, which is accompanied by an ominous tolling of bells. Also crystal clear is one of the most wonderfully disgusting sound effects I’ve ever heard: the soft icky sucking noise when Kruvajan removes Asa’s mask!

Special Features:

Liner notes: The packaging includes three pages of notes by Tim Lucas briefly covering the careers of Mario Bava and Barbara Steele, the production of the film, and its (mis)handling by AIP in America

Trailers: Included is the original English-language trailer, which clearly demonstrates that giving away too much of a film in the trailer, particularly its shocks, is not just a recent phenomenon! The trailer is also at 1.66, and is of the same excellent picture quality as the feature.

Deleted scenes: Included is the text of a deleted scene of a daytime conversation between Princess Katia and her father, Prince Vadja. This scene was in the original Italian print of the film, and no other version. Explanations for the scene’s omission from this version of the film are also provided. The notes themselves claim that a still from this scene is included, but I couldn’t find it.

Biographies and filmographies: The disc contains a full filmography for Barbara Steele, and biographical notes and a partial filmography for Mario Bava – "partial" because of his habit of doing uncredited work for friends and colleagues, meaning that a definitive filmography has not yet been compiled.

Photo and poster gallery: The disc contains a series of international posters, lobby cards, production stills and photographs which can be paused and zoomed. Of most interest are a picture of Mario Bava substituting for John Richardson to direct the scene of Andrej’s fight with Javutich; shots of scenes not appearing in the film, particularly two of Arturo Dominici in full vampire mode (presumably taken before Bava decided the whole "vampire" thing looked silly); and a shot of Javutich’s coach-ride demonstrating how little studio space Bava had to work in!

Audio commentary: The disc has a commentary by Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas, currently writing a book on the life and work of Mario Bava. The commentary is a nice mix of cinematic history, biographical information and technical detail. The real value of it is that again and again it draws attention to the artistry of Mario Bava, particularly with respect to his (uncredited) special effects work, allowing the viewer to conceive an even deeper appreciation for this film in particular and Bava’s work in general. (I was most impressed with the simple explanation of two of the film’s grosser effects, the reformation of Asa’s eyes!) It is also helpful in providing a rationale for certain lapses in the film’s logic, and some inconsistencies in Barbara Steele’s performance. There are some silences along the way, which won’t please everybody. However, the commentary never feels forced; Lucas talks when he has something to say, not for the sake of it. I understand that Lucas has been accused in some quarters of using the commentary to plug his upcoming book on Bava. This is ridiculous. The book is mentioned at the outset as a way of establishing Lucas’s credentials, then twice more, briefly, describing certain rare Bava material that will be included in it (notably photographs from the period in which this film was being prepped for a colour shoot) – information I should think Bava fans would want to know!