Most of the Mario Bava pics that got distributed in the States were advertised to look like low-budget horror/occult fare out of the Roger Corman shop. But Corman never had the directing chops of this Italian cult fave & any surface similarity fades once you get past the trailers, advertisements & Americanized titles.* Later Bava films made extravagant use of over-ripe color schemes, but this early b&w work is equally effective. It’s a creepy tale of witchcraft, delayed revenge and the redemptive force of love . . . when abetted by a handy crucifix. The opening scene, set a couple of centuries before the main story (adapted from Gogol), is a masterly piece of Grand Guignol as two witches are tortured and held to the stake when a sudden rainstorm douses the consuming flames. The rest of the film falls considerably off this eye-popping start, but in spite of miserable dubbing, a romantic music theme that sounds borrowed from a piano bar in Rome, and the usual absurdities & illogical character motivations needed to get us thru the plot mechanics, the film is legitimately creepy & disturbing. The Anchor Bay DVD edition uses Bava’s preferred international edit restoring score & gore removed by distributor A.I.P. back in 1960.**
*And leading actress, Barbara Steele. **The Italian distributor was JOLLY FILMS!!