Black Sunday (1960)/Les Baxter
May 3, 2011
Black Sunday had the honor of being the first picture directed by Mario Bava, his breakthrough picture at the age of 48, and also being the film with the greatest number of names. Filmed in Italy as La Maschera Del Demonio Soundtrack Collector lists eight different titles (each country seemed to come up with their own name) for this movie which starred Barbara Steele in a breakthrough role for her too that led to many more pictures, as she went on to become the “queen of horror” in the 60’s.
Baxter had already made a footprint with American International and would go on to be the composer of choice for many years with the successful low budget company. This newly mastered Kritzerland (20018-7)is a vastly improved rerelease over the 1997 Citadel (STC 77110) and the 1992 Bay Cities (BCD 3034), is the sixth release of Baxter material in less than a year and the second for Kritzerland in six months, the other being Sadismo. There is no reason at all to own it with the possible exception of wanting the music from “Baron Blood.” The Citadel/Bay Cities recording is a 34 minute suite in mono that has excess treble at times, less than dynamic range, and little bass. It sounds like listening to something on a radio! It is nice to see such a renewed interest in the work of Baxter. Kritzerland, La-La Land Records, and Intrada have all offered releases of Baxter material. Baxter wrote a score for the US release, replacing the Robert Nicolosi one which is still obtainable on Digit Movies (CDDM-035) for those who are interested in comparing both recordings which I did.
The Roberto Nicolosi material is very much in the background compared to Les who came up with a typical 50’s science fiction score. I call it the Universal International sound. The “Main Title” sets the ear for the listener for a horror score as it filled with dissonant conflict from the brass, irregular rhythm from the percussion, organ, and harmony in the background from the tuba an instrument that Baxter used quite well in the score. You can certainly tell that Baxter listened to the original score, kept some of the same instruments and basically improved it with his sound. “Meeting Katia,” the love theme is introduced classically on the piano seemingly out of place from the loud blaring tracks. A good theme it is very much the romantic cue and you’ll hear it in “Andre and Katia” and other tracks in the score. I encourage you to see the American International version of the film to hear firsthand the visual come together with the audio. “Drinking at the Inn” and “Kruvajan Outside the Inn” are typical German polka music with rhythm from the tuba you expect to hear and beer drinking melodies that you’ll soon forget. “End Titles,” restating the love theme, sounds very much like a Hollywood conclusion to a film with a happy ending, quite a contrast to the creepy harpsichord and oboe in the Roberto Nicolosi version. The “Warning” is one to play on Halloween for the trick and treat crowd as they come to your door. In a word terrifying! I’ve included three audio clips. The main title from Nicolosi, the maintitle from Baxter, and the Katia love theme also from Baxter.
Finding a copy might prove to be a challenge as there were only 1000 copies pressed and at the time of this writing Kritzerland had sold out. Other sources such as SAE, Intrada, and Soundtrax might still have copies available. If you want this I’d get on the phone ASAP. As a fan of Les Baxter you’ll love it. With the interest he’s generated I’m confident we’ll see more in the future.