Movie Reviews 200 – Black Sabbath (1963)

Black SabbathCelebrating my 200th movie review, I thought it only fitting that I spotlight a special movie. So I chose 1963’s Black Sabbath from the patriarch of Italian Horror cinema, Mario Bava and featuring none other than Boris Karloff in his last hurrah before churning out mostly mediocre fare in his final years.

Not to be confused with the Heavy Metal band showcasing Ozzie Osbourne and his crew of misfit bangers who adopted the group name in homage to the english release, the original Italian version bore the title “I Tre Volti Della Paura” (which translates as “Three Faces of Fear”).

The movie is a three set anthology, a format not particularly unusual for horror movies at the time and a joint venture with Amicus films, who basically provided Karloff’s services to Galatea films in Italy. My DVD (from the Mario Bava Collection set) only had subtitles, so I’m not sure if a dubbed version is available, but don’t let that stop you. In fact hearing Boris speaking  Italian is almost worth it alone.

The  first piece is “The Telephone”, about a woman living alone and terrorized by a caller who seems to know her every move in her apartment. We soon deduce that a man she once helped imprison has just been released and she frantically calls one of her older friends with whom she had some sort of falling out years ago. The suspense grows as we learn the true nature of the events surrounding the characters, but even so, the ending comes as a surprise. The European flavour is most evident in this story with brazen sexuality from the very first scene featuring Michèle Mercier disrobing as she arrives home and then bordering on the taboo as the story progresses.

The centerpiece “The Wurdulak” is the story starring Karloff as the patriarch of a 19th Century Russian peasant family in a town who seems resigned to the fate of a local legendary vampire-like curse. As a noble visitor named Vladimir (Mark Damon)  takes refuge in the home of one family after finding a knife embedded in a headless body, he learns the tale of the curse of the Wurdulak. The grandfather Gorca (Karloff), has left to battle to Wurdulak and has ordered the family that if he does not return before midnight, he is not to be let back in, as by then he will have succumbed to the beast and as a ‘walking cadaver’ himself, he will pounce upon the next person he loves most. The family is indecisive as Gorca returns seconds after the stroke of midnight and starts behaving strangely. Vladimir has fallen for the young and beautiful Sdenka (Susy Andersen) but first the family has to figure what to make of Gorca’s sudden interest in his young grandson and the fact that the knife Vladimir found was Gorca’s.

Easily the best of the three stories (although all are powerful), the colors are lavish and bold throughout, with scenes saturated in reds, greens, blues and yellows. The movie poster says it all.

The final story, “The Drop of Water” is about a caretaker (Jacqueline Pierreux) who is called upon when one of her elderly patients has passed away late one night and takes the opportunity to pilfer one of the dead woman’s rings. She is of course haunted by the ghost of the old woman sporting a freakish death mask like you’ve never seen before. Her haunting is exemplified by the sound of dripping water and a pestering fly, both of which were present at the time of her crime.

Simply a masterful anthology that rivals anything from Hammer or other Amicus productions and one of the best Bava directorial outings rivaled only perhaps by Black Sunday.

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