Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath
No, this isn't a review of a live DVD of the band Black Sabbath. Geezer Butler is not a werewolf, Tony Iommi, is not a zombie, Bill Ward is not the Blob, and Ozzy Osbourne is, well, Ozzy Osbourne. While that sounds like the best horror movie ever, today's review is actually for the movie from which the famous heavy metal band took their name. I always thought that this movie was British because the band was British, but to my surprise, it is actually from Italy. Originally titled “I tre volti della paura”, Black Sabbath is three unconnected tales of terror. It must be good if the original heavy metal band took their name from it, right?
Black Sabbath is a 1963 horror anthology directed by Mario Bava (Baron Blood, Shock). Dubbed in English from the original Italian, Black Sabbath tells three horror tales. An older Boris Karloff introduces us to each of the stories: “The Drop Of Water”, “The Telephone”, and “The Wurdalak”. In “The Drop Of Water,” Nurse Helen Chester is called to the house of a supposed medium and witch who has recently died. The old woman lays dead on her bed with her eyes wide open and a sickly grin frozen in place. As Helen prepares the body, she steals a sapphire ring off the corpse and hides it on her person. As she does, she knocks over a glass, causing water to drip on the floor. She is also harassed by a fly in the room that lands directly on the finger where the ring used to be. When she returns home, Helen is once again bothered by the fly. Strange events occur, such as flickering lights and the dripping sound of water. She begins to see the dead old woman in her house, her eyes wide and her grin still fixed to her face. What will happen to Helen? The second story, “The Telephone” tells the story of a beautiful woman named Rosy who is harassed by a phone-caller. The caller makes sexual comments and threatens Rosy, saying he will get her before the police arrive. Terrified, Rosy calls her friend Mary to come stay with her. Rosy believes the caller is Frank, her dead husband. As Rosy sleeps, Mary writes her a note begging for her to seek help. She is unaware that the caller is even closer than Rosy thought. What will happen to Rosy and who has been calling her? In the final story based on a story by Tolstoy, “The Wurdalak,” a young nobleman named Vladimir Durfe discovers a beheaded corpse with a sword stuck in it's back. He takes the sword and when he enters a village later that night, a man, Giorgio, recognizes the sword as his father's who had not been seen for five days. Vladimir stays the night with Giorgio and his family who explain their father, Gorca (Boris Karloff, Frankenstein, The Mummy) went to fight the wurdalak (vampire) Ali Beg. At the stroke of midnight, Gorca returns to the home, looking gravely pale and carrying the head of Ali Beg. His unkempt appearance, harsh disposition, and the baying of hounds convince the family that Gorca has in fact become a wurdalak. Gorca picks off the family, one by one, leaving only Vladimir and beautiful Sdenka. What will happen to them?
Ozzy looks terrible!
Black Sabbath is a prime example of how to correctly do a horror anthology. Each story manages to establish the characters and get to the point quickly. Director Mario Bava is able to craft each story well, with a good mixture of different horror styles. All three stories are both visually and psychologically appealing with plenty of fear. Boris Karloff is wonderful introducing each story adding a wry sense of humor not seen in his classic works. All three of the stories are simple, yet effective. If you read scary stories as a child, each of these should sound somewhat familiar. It's important to keep in mind that this movie came out in the early sixties and the stories were based on much older tales, so no need to scream about originality. I never like movies being dubbed as I find it distracting, but thankfully it wasn't too bad in Black Sabbath.
The Drop Of Water is colorful and atmospheric, making for a creepy feel. The woman's distorted face is unnerving and far scarier than any computerized effect. The Telephone is your typical “scary caller” horror story, made most popular by 1973's “When A Stranger Calls” with the addition of a ghost story. If the story doesn't really make sense (why would a ghost call his former wife and then try to kill her?) it's because the English version has been hacked to pieces and reworked. The original Italian version has Rosy and Mary in a lesbian affair and Frank escaping from prison. That makes much more sense than the version I watched. I suppose American/British audiences weren't ready for that type of subject matter. The Wurdalak is the longest of the stories, but probably the best. Karloff is fantastic as the vampire Gorca creating a real sense of dread in the audience. There is a good amount of fear and action in this story with some good sets and costumes.
Black Sabbath is a fun movie with a set of good, basic stories. There are some good chills and a decent amount of action. There are some changes from the original version, so if you are able to, watch that one instead of the altered version. Boris Karloff is very enjoyable, showcasing his range as an actor, from clever host to terrifying monster. The directorial talent of Bava is on display as well, mixing up different styles, but still capable of delivering the horror goods. Black Sabbath is quite enjoyable and well worth your time.