Arrow films remaster and re-release Italian gore maestro Mario Bava’s anthology ‘Black Sabbath’ on Blu-ray and DVD this January.
The creepy anthology, introduced and bookended by Boris ‘Frankenstein’ Karloff, contains 3 eclectic stories spanning giallo, period and supernatural genres.
The first story, ‘The Telephone’ is a tense tale about a woman harassed by a menacing caller. Reminiscent of the opening to the strong-starting chiller ‘When a Stranger Calls’, the caller not only knows the woman intimately, but provides details of the women’s habits hinting that the call is from a more voyeuristic perspective, than that of a simple stalker. After an evening of torment, the caller reveals himself as ‘Frank’, her former pimp, who has escaped from jail. Looking for comfort, she calls her ex-lover, another young lady – this is when the cat and mouse game really starts.
As you would expect, the segment is exquisitely shot, both beautiful and menacing. Its claustrophobic and tense, without compromising on pace. The giallo style was in its infancy at the time of release, and the early influences from a genre which would become more established throughout the following decade shine though, including the now-typical (numerous) twist endings.
Its only half an hour long, but one hell of an opener.
Following ‘The Telephone’ comes the period themed, the ‘Wurdalak’. In 19C Russia a family is menaced by a curse of the Wurdalak, a creature, who if not killed, passes on a deadly curse which causes loved ones to return from the grave to drink their blood. In a bizarre mixture between Vampire and Zombie themes we follow protagonist Vladimir Durfe as he finds himself caught up in a family’s plight – their eccentric father (played by Karloff himself) returning to the family home after going missing, presumed dead, with some murderous plans for dinner!
The traditional ‘stage like’ setting and atmosphere of this segment is a complete contrast to the sick opener, but it works, for 15-20 minutes at least; beyond this point if found this segment more style over substance. It is longest segment by far, and the more elaborate, however its pace drags. The gothic themes lend themselves to some nice vistas and some gorgeous panoramic shots (I believe Arrow have presented the lusher and broader palleted Italian print), but the ending is telegraphed a mile off, and to be honest there is just too much padded dialogue in the middle. Not terrible by any measure, but by the end the story had run its course.
Thankfully, the final segment more than made up for any drop-in enthusiasm. The supernatural ‘Drop of Water’ was well ahead of its time. Given modern horror trends, the ghost story which sees a young lady become the victim of a haunting after stealing the ring from the finger of a recently deceased rich lady will no doubt bring some new fans to a film which is already held in high esteem. The numerous, lingering shots on one of the creepiest prop corpses sets the unnerving tone, whilst effective use of maddening sound effects and erratic camera movements add a hint of psychological horror to the segment. Whilst the first segment was exquisitely shot contemporary piece, this one steals the show as a straight up traditional horror. I loved it.
Overall ‘Black Sabbath’ or perhaps more appropriately titled ‘I tre volti della paura’ ('The Three Faces of Fear') is a lovingly restored piece of essential horror cinema. Originally released in 1963 it has, quite rightly, appeared on many ‘best ever horror film’ lists and cited numerous times as an influence on numerous other projects. Arrow present it here as if it was made yesterday. A few editing anomalies aside the discs presentation is definitive, vibrant, and uncut.