Director: Mario Bava
Reviewer: Vincent Daemon
There's not a lot that can be said about Mario bava's 1963 masterpiece Black Sabbath that hasn't been said already. I mean, there's full books written on the subject of Bava, and this film. But for those of you who haven't seen it, or are new to Bava's work ing eneral, here's a quick overview.
Black Sabbath is an anthology film (how I love them so). The wrap around segments feature a bizarre, slightly snarky and entertainingly off kilter performance from Karloff as the narrator. These are merely short, gallows humor infused splashes of bizarre across the screen, and a neat way to round out the ideas contained within the film.
1) The Drop Of Water
An interesting ghost tale. A crazed, drunk woman gets a mysterious late night phone call. She goes to her destination, a decrepit mansion, wherein the housekeeper takes her to see a hideous corpse in the back room, that the drunkard woman must dress for burial. However, she spots a ring on the corpses finger, and thieves it. This sets off a chain of events that involve hallucinations and lost of that rich, textured imagery Bava is so known for. Short and sweet, this segment tends to put me into small fits of laughter because the old womans angry corpse is not only frighteningly hideous, but actually really funny looking to boot. The piece excels in the last five minutes or so, and the overall story is fairly creepily presented. The sets are lavish and the acting suitably melodramatic, atmosphere being paramount to all else in classic Bava fashion.
2) The Telephone
An attractive socialite gets bombarded with phone calls from a mysterious, creepy stranger. The calls progress into death threats and the socialite being told "you know exactly who I am." A third party comes into play, and we find that there was a set-up and a double cross in the past, and that this voice may possibly be coming from a dead man. For the most part, this episode plays out like a classic giallo (there's even a black gloved killer fake-out that is really, really subtle and kind of neat). This piece was also extremely short, but again highly entertaining, and does include it's own very vague and bizarre ending.
3) The Wurdulak
This piece finishes out the film. It stars Karloff as an old man who returns from death a bit off, with strange wounds on his neck, a nasty temper, and a very strange hunger. I find this to be one of Karloff's creepiest roles in the history of his carreer as he leches around, a true monster in human form, feeding upon his family, and even his own grandson. His make-up is also quite unsettling, as he tends to look a bit worse every time we see him come creeping up out of the darkness, filled with bloodlust for his family. He is wide eyed, frantic, evil, and completely delightful to watch. I love seeing Karloff like this, really, as in real life he was apparently a total sweetheart, and the consummate gentleman. Again, Bava's use of imagery, bizarre camera and lighting techniques, and his own particular brand of spooky graveyard occurrences really amps up the gothic terror factor here. Pure genius, with a suitable hopeless and grim ending. Great stuff. The Wurdulak (a vampire who only feeds on the blood of it's own family) was originally a story written by Tolstoy, and if you want to read into it certainly contains an interesting philosophy about the destruction of "family units" from the inside out, and how often people will (literally, in this case) feed off of each other until there is nothing left. Sometimes, family can be a detriment.
And there you have, a great classic film from a couple of true terror auteurs. If you haven't seen this, get on the ball and check it out. It's a unique film from a unique period in film history, and while not Bava's full on best, it certainly ranks up there.
And one final thing, though most of you probably know this already. This film is indeed where the band Black Sabbath ganked their name.
---- Vincent Daemon's short fiction has appeared in over 24 publications, and he just put his first short story collection, Bury Me In A Nameless Grave: A Collection Of 11, together to eventually be published. He is also editor of the annual Grave Demand magazine, as well as a freelance editor for hire in his down time. He can be found on facebook, and at his blog The Writings Of A Depraved Mind http://vincentdaemon.blogspot.com/?zx=c2884c7b8567b656 , and contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org ----