It’s getting to be that special time of year once again where I dust off the exceptional classics and indulge in the pleasures of the masters. That time when man made monsters walk the earth and blood sucking demons lurk behind castle walls. Halloween is drawing near, and with that it’s time for a Sabbath, a Black Sabbath.
Black Sabbath is a 1963 film by Italian master Mario Bava, an anthology that touches on his many mastered styles and strengths. A film famous for being the only time Boris Karloff ever played a vampire. Though anthologies are rare now, at the time, they were part of horror’s arsenal to shock and terrify you. This film accomplishes that in spades.
The film opens with Boris Karloff lurking in the darkness warning us of the horror to come. He speaks of ghosts and goblins, of horror and being horrified. The first tale is a tale of ghosts and the dead, a tale called… "The Drop of Water"
A blonde woman, Helen Chester, stares out the window before cranking up the music and pouring a drink. She obviously plans on getting ripped, but she is interrupted by a phone call begging her to come quickly. Where is she going? She ends up at an estate and is apparently a nurse, a saucy one at that. She has been called because her occasional patient, an elderly medium, is in the throes of death. Once she gets upstairs and into the room, she finds that the lady of the estate has passed. While preparing the woman’s corpse, Helen spies a Sapphire on her finger and decides to take it! That doesn’t go well for her as the dead woman is still very much attached to her stuff.
All the classic elements are here. Cats, Ghosts, Dripping water, Flies, and of course, a dead body, the image of the dead woman alone, sitting up in bed and watching you, is enough to cause nightmares. Great stuff.
Karloff then reappears to introduce the second segment, "The Telephone". A young and mega sexy Yvonne Molnaur knockoff, Rosy (Michele Mercier), is a high priced callgirl (good for her)! After returning her from work, she begins receiving harassing and sexually threatening phone calls from her Ex-pimp, Frank. He wants his money and revenge. Rosy soon calls her lover Mary (Lydia Alfonsi). Mary tells her not to worry and gives her a sedative to sleep. Little does Rosy know, but Mary writes a note confessing to making all the phone calls. If this is true, who is the deranged looking man lurking in the shadows?
The Telephone plays like an episode of Tales from the Crypt. All the elements are there; sexy Femme Fatales, money, and dangerous sexuality. More noir than true horror, its none the less a top notch story.
The final segment is “The Wurdalak" starring Mark Damon and Boris Karloff himself! A young nobleman, Vladimir Durfe (Mark Damon)is riding when he comes along a headless body with a dagger still plunged in its chest. Not being one to leave a good weapon, Vlad takes the weapon and goes on his way! Eventually, he stops at a small cottage for shelter and as he looks around, he sees that there is a space for a missing dagger on the wall. The outline clearly fits the one he is now carrying. He meets the family and it being Mark Damon, he quickly latches onto the hot blonde sister, Sdenka (Susy Anderson). He learns that their father has been gone for 5 days, having gone to slay a local outlaw named Ali Beg, who happens to be a wurdalak or walking corpse. Vlad decides that he will stay and await the man’s return. And return he does, severed head in hand, and quite, quite hungry.
The film reeks of classic Hammer atmosphere coupled with Bava’s gorgeous angles and compositions. One can see just what Black Sunday would look like in color and it would have been a thing of beauty.
Black Sabbath is a rare film that delivers on all levels even after being tooled with by American International Pictures. They wanted more horror in their film so scenes were shifted, added, and eliminated. Karloff’s part was beefed up. All the usual things that the studios do, except in this case, it didn’t hurt the film, because when Mario Bava was on his game, he was unstoppable.
This is a film that belongs in any collection; it is an engrossing sampler of the many different styles mastered by Mario Bava. Black Sabbath is a snapshot of his career and his talent to be admired and studied by all those who dare to create and simply love horror.
Other Horrific Musings:
An insatiable creature who loves the dead: Lady Frankenstein (1972)
Just Another Fright at the Park: Universal Halloween Horror Nights - Opening Night
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