Friday, December 22, 2017

Review: Black Sabbath (1963)

I could have sworn that I'd viewed and reviewed Mario Bava's Black Sabbath before, but I can't find any review ... so here we go!

Arrow have released the film with various editions and extras, but I was only sent for review the Spanish with English subtitles version. It's a film with an interesting backstory, in which all the English versions were heavily cut and reordered ...

The film contains three stories, ostensibly by Tolstoy, Chekov and Maupassant, but as critic Alan Jones informs us in an introduction, none of these three writers had anything to do with the scripts ... It's all presented by Boris Karloff, who also stars in the middle segment as the father of a family cursed with becoming vampires ... But more of that later.

We open with a story called 'The Telephone' which is the simple tale of a woman, Rosy, who receives calls from an unknown caller, threatening to kill her ... the caller seems to know all about her and what she is doing, so she calls a friend, Mary, to come over and stay with her ... not realising that Mary is behind it all as she is in love with Rosy. Meanwhile Rosy's pimp, Frank, returns (she was a call girl), and he kills Mary thinking she is Rosy, before being stabbed to death by Rosy herself ...  No-one ends up very happy here.

The middle segment features Karloff as I mentioned, and is the story of a family beset by a curse. There's lots of mystery as the father is away hunting wurdalak - a vampire who feeds on families. A young man, Vladimir, wants Sdenka, the daughter, to come away with him, but before he can escape, the father returns, and all the family are vampirised ...

The final segment is called 'A Drop of Water' and is perhaps the best. A nurse, Helen, is called to the house of a woman (a spiritualist) she was nursing where the matriarch of the house has died and her corpse is sitting in bed, all eyes staring and teeth grinning. Helen prepares the body for the undertaker, but steals a ring from its finger, knocking over a glass of water in the process, which then drips to the floor.  Back at her own apartment, Helen hears dripping water and sees the corpse of the woman coming for her ... she is somehow forced to strangle herself and dies ... Her body is found by the concierge and the police are called, noting that a ring has been wrenched from her finger.  The concierge looks guilty, while Helen's corpse looks at her ...

Overall the trilogy is strong, with some excellent direction and good performances. The sets and settings are likewise superb, and each little story does not outstay its welcome. These are similar, but perhaps not as gory, as the later anthology films from Amicus, and rely on more cerebral scares than blood and guts.

Well worth a look if you've an interest in the development of horror film, and the works of Mario Bava ...

Released: 18 December 2017

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of two versions of the film; I tre volti della paura the European version with score by Roberto Nicolosi & Black Sabbath the re-edited and re-dubbed AIP version with Les Baxter score
  • English SDH subtitles for English Audio and a new English subtitle translation of the Italian audio
  • Audio Commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas
  • Twice the Fear, A comparison of the different versions of the film

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