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No Gloomy “Sunday” with Complete Les Baxter Debut

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Les Baxter sure gets around. The past year has seen reissues of the maestro’s scores from a number of labels including Intrada, La-La Land and Kritzerland, and the latter ups the ante today with the release of the exotica master’s score to 1960’s infamous Black Sunday (La Maschera del Demonio, or The Mask of Satan). Mario Bava’s Italian horror classic stars Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Arturo Dominici and Ivo Garrani in the tale of a vampire/witch put to death by her brother who is reborn 200 years later to feed on her descendants. Yet what made La Maschera del Demonio so notorious was its untamed scenes of violence and carnage. A burning letter was branded into Steele’s flesh, blood spewed from the mask as it was hammered into her face, an eyeball was impaled and flesh peeled while Garrani burned to death. For its 1961 U.S. release, the B-movie mavens at American International Pictures trimmed roughly three minutes from the film and retitled it Black Sunday. AIP had it redubbed into English (most of the actors had already spoken their dialogue in English) and commissioned Les Baxter to write a new score, replacing the Italian score by Roberto Nicolosi. Baxter, perhaps best-remembered for his lounge and exotica albums, wrote over 100 scores for AIP including Sadismo (recently reissued by Kritzerland), Hell’s Belles and Beach Blanket Bingo (both reissued by La-La Land).

In 1992 at the Bay Cities label, producer Bruce Kimmel gave Baxter’s score to Black Sunday its first CD reissue as BCD 3034 in the form of a 34-minute suite with no separate tracks in non-film order. This release was derived from a 7½ ips tape of variable quality. Now, almost twenty years later, Kimmel is revisiting Baxter’s classic horror score in complete form for the very first time. He and mastering engineer James Nelson have utilized the original two-track session masters for this new CD. Black Sunday will be presented in crisp mono and in proper film order. Every note of Baxter’s score will be released, save one 30-second piano solo played by the character of Katia.

Intrada’s recent edition of Baxter’s 1960 score for American International’s House of Usher was a quick sellout, so don’t hesitate if you’d like to experience the chilling terror of Les Baxter’s Black Sunday! Kritzerland’s Black Sunday is a limited edition of 1,000 copies and is priced at $19.98 plus shipping and handling. It is scheduled for release during the third week of May. Pre-orders directly from the label arrive an average of four weeks early. Black Sunday can also be ordered in a special bundle with Les Baxter’s Sadismo while supplies last! Hit the jump for the full press release, track listing, pre-order links and discographical information!


The moral obligation warning came at the head of the American International Pictures U.S. version of 1960’s Black Sunday, which was actually released in the U.S. in 1961. And for once that kind of hyperbolic hype was true and you knew it right from the get go – first, with a woman being branded with an “S” (for Satan) in extreme close-up, with the sound of the brand searing her flesh, and second, having a mask of spikes hammered into her face by a huge masked man with a huge mallet. That alone was enough to send impressionable young people running up the aisle, and there was more to come, a lot more – a whole plethora of nightmare-inducing images. American International actually trimmed the most violent moments (a spike through someone’s eye, melting flesh, spurting blood), but what was left was still pretty potent for its time. Add to that, Bava’s mist-shrouded exteriors and beautifully shot interiors, and you had atmosphere to spare. But the most brilliant bit of atmosphere a filmmaker could ever have was the ethereal presence of the absolutely stunning Barbara Steele in her dual role of Princess Asa and Katia. Steele would go on to become one of the most iconic faces in ‘60s horror cinema. And also aiding the atmosphere incredibly well was the wonderful musical score by Les Baxter.

One of the first decisions American International made for the U.S. version of the film, was to replace the original moody score of Roberto Nicolosi with a more conventional horror score, which they assigned to composer Les Baxter. Baxter had just finished scoring Roger Corman’s House of Usher, and he was a perfect choice. He delivered a classic score, which was occasionally moody like the original Nicolosi score, but also delivered the kinds of musical horror moments to which American audiences were accustomed. Right from the start, with the warning logo, you get that wonderful Baxter sound – shrieking brass that was literally warning you to watch out. There’s a beautiful love theme for Katia, there’s ominous, brooding music, there’s music for beer drinkers, there’s music that brilliantly punctuates a couple of the film’s scariest sequences, and the score just does what a score for a horror film should – underline the horror in the best and most visceral way it can .

Black Sunday was hugely influential on an entire generation of filmmakers, and continues to be to this day. Its combination of brilliant and moody photography, horror, and poetry, has been paid homage by many directors, including Francis Ford Coppola and Tim Burton – the latter noted that “One of the films that remain with me probably stronger than anything is Black Sunday.” You can see that influence throughout most of Burton’s film Sleepy Hollow.

A thirty-four minute suite from Black Sunday was originally released on LP, where it was rather ludicrously mislabeled as Black Sabbath (another great Bava film whose US release also carried a score by Les Baxter). That suite was assembled from a 7½ ips tape of not great quality. The suite received its first CD appearance on Bay Cities and then subsequently on Citadel, both releases from that same tape. Missing from the suite was not only good audio quality but also an awful lot of the film’s best music. The suite also was assembled in no particular order and didn’t really reflect the way the music was used in the film at all, not to mention that it was one long track.

For this release, we found the original mixed two-track session masters in the MGM vaults, which were in excellent condition. The best news was that those tapes contained every note of music Baxter wrote for the film. The only piece that was missing was the little thirty-second solo piano piece played by the character of Katia in the film. The sound on those original tapes is, of course, miles ahead of the previous version – it is pristine mono sound and finally allows the score to be heard in the way that it should be. We’ve assembled the score in precise film order, which is how it plays best.

So here, at long last, is Les Baxter’s great score to one of the all-time classic horror films, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Click below for guaranteed chills!

Les Baxter, Black Sunday: Original MGM Motion Picture Soundtrack (Kritzerland KR-20018-7, 2011)

  1. Warning/Prologue/The Mask
  2. Main Titles
  3. Carriage Ride/Strange Noises
  4. The Chapel and the Legend/The Bat/Lifting the Mask/A Drop of Blood
  5. Meeting Katia/Revivifying Blood
  6. The Painting/Vision of the Mask/Asa’s Eyes
  7. Drinking at the Inn/Scary Woods
  8. Kruvajan Outside the Inn/Rise Yavuto
  9. Prince Vajda Sees Yavuto/Mysterious Carriage & Ride Through the Woods/Kruvajan/Asa Alive
  10. Kruvajan and Vajda, Kruvajan and Katia/Daybreak
  11. Andre to the Castle/Dead Boris/Andre and Katia
  12. That’s the Man/Find Her
  13. Bleeding Dogs/Fiery Drapes/In the Garden/Strangled and Secret Passage
  14. The Grave/Stake Through the Eye
  15. Katia Alone and Afraid/Katia Meets Asa
  16. Andre and Yavuto/Katia and Asa/Save Katia
  17. Villagers to the Castle/The Cross/The Burning/Katia Alive
  18. End Titles

Written by Joe Marchese

April 11, 2011 at 16:52

Posted in News, Reissues, Soundtracks

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