LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO (1960) / COMPOSER: ROBERTO NICOLOSI / LABEL: SPIKEROT RECORDS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Roberto Nicolosi's score to the 1960 Mario Bava witch movie, La Maschera del Demonio – also known as Black Sunday and The Mask of Satan – has been released before, as a Digitmovies compact disc, which saw the score double-featured with another Bava film, 1963's The Evil Eye, also known as The Girl Who Knew Too Much. Spikerot Records's vinyl debut of the score has a full 20 more tracks than that CD, with many alternate takes, and is sequenced in chronological order.
The atmospheric orchestral score is absolutely perfect in every way. From the opening music, the brass and woodwinds work in concert to create an eerie atmosphere, assisted and amplified by the insistent use of kettle drums. It's almost like an Italian horror take on the Akira Ifukube Godzilla scores, which is an interesting concept if one considers the fact that both monsters were created by man's hubris, even though one is a storeys-high lizard and the other a human-sized witch.
While the creepier aspects of Nicolosi's score are excellently terrifying, it does at times focus on brighter elements, using the xylophone and even the harp, which are meant to heighten the tension when paired with the imagery on screen. Separated from the visuals of shadowy mystery, the music hasn't aged well, and edges closely to a Looney Tunes or Scooby Doo cartoon, wherein the tip-toeing characters' every step is Mickey Moused by orchestra.
The declension of the final cues brings everything back to disturbing territory, however, and even the rising notes of the closing moments can't take away from the sense of dread. While definitely of its time, even hearkening back to classic Universal horror scores, the music Nicolosi wrote still works to create a near-enveloping sense of vintage fright.
Calling the brief essay by Bava's son, Lamberto – an acclaimed horror director in his own right – “liner notes” is a bit of a stretch. It's one longish paragraph which reflects upon the long-ranging influence of La Maschera, with only the phrase “the music of Roberto Nicolosi sublimating the images” reflecting the music itself. It's a nice addition, but those who open the record jacket for the first time expecting a lengthy discourse on the film and its music will come away disappointed.
That said, the packaging is deluxe. A slipcover has two die-cut eyes in the titular mask, which allows the eyes of Barbara Steele's Asa Vajda to peer through. Pulling the jacket from the slipcover reveals Vajda's face in all it's spiked glory. The inner gatefold image is gorgeous enough to warrant a poster print of SoloMacello's artwork. The eerie, atmospheric scene depicts Vajda, one of the gigantic hounds walked by her ancestor, Katia, and the burly executioner from the film's beginning.
Pressed on bone white vinyl and mastered at 45rpm, the audio is a little creaky, but that's more due to age than any pressing issues. Considering the absolute rarity of these recordings, the fidelity is excellent, and despite the slightly hollow tenor, it's mostly robust, especially on the lower end instruments such as the kettle drum and oboe.