Black Sabbath (1963)

Posted: February 24, 2021 in Uncategorized

Hard to believe it had been over 25 years since I’d last seen Mario Bava’s anthology film (the film to which the history of heavy metal owes a staggering debt). Far too long, so last Friday, Stephen D. Sullivan and I did a watch-along of the European cut. This was the first time for both of us seeing that, and though it did mean some adjusting to the fact of Boris Karloff dubbed into Italian (and so we were deprived of That Voice), I found that adjustment quite painless as the magnificence of the visuals swept over me. I mean, just look at these colours! Steve’s memories of the US cut were clearer than mine (virtually nonexistent), and he pointed out that not only did that cut alter the order of the stories, the English dubbing changed the content of the first story pretty considerably, removing the lesbian subtext altogether.

The first story, “The Telephone,” a tale of a woman being tormented by threatening phone calls, is the only one that isn’t a period piece. The apartment setting has some nicely baroque decor, and the I can’t help but feel that the blood-red phone is a sly jab at the White Telephone movies of Italy’s not-too-distant past. But the twist is hardly surprising, and I doubt that this is anyone’s favourite story in the film. But it’s also the shortest.

In the next two, Bava’s flamboyance cuts loose, and almost every frame could be hung on a gallery wall. Even the day-for-night photography is ravishing.

In “The Wurdalak,” Boris Karloff is the patriarch who returns to his family after heading off on a vampire hunt. Said hunt was successful, in that he killed the vampire, but he has become one himself, and comes to spread the curse. This is the earliest example I can think of in horror film where evil is triumphant. The protagonists don’t stand a chance, and are mowed down by the relentless darkness. The scene of the young boy, now undead, banging on the house door and calling “Mama!” is several orders of creepy magnitude beyond the floating kid Salem’s Lot, and Karloff appears to have been energized by the project — he looks so much more spry than he does in The Terror from the same year.

The final story, “The Drop of Water,” has a ghost coming back for revenge on the woman who stole a ring from the deceased’s finger. The ghost is Pretty Fucking Creepy (TM):

Bava’s use of reds and blues, shifting in and out of darkness during a thunderstorm, would be picked up by Dario Argento for Inferno (for which Bava did the makeup).

All told, an exhilarating plunge into deliriously beautiful gothic nightmares, and I won’t make the mistake of waiting another 25 years before watching it again.

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