Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Black Sabbath (1963)

“In this 1963 trilogy of chilling tales, a beautiful woman’s ex-lover terrorizes her, a father returns home a vampire, and a ghost haunts a nurse. The vampire story — probably the most famous of the three — stars a poignant Boris Karloff, who also plays host for the anthology. Italian horror impresario Mario Bava served as writer, director and cinematographer for the film, and composer Les Baxter serves up the martini-soaked lounge score.”

First off I have to admit that having an aging Boris Karloff narrate the film as a disembodied head is more than a little cheesy. I love portmanteau films but having Karloff narrate as a framing device for these three stories does not work very well.

As noted in the Netflix description, Mario Bava wrote, directed, and did the cinematography for Black Sabbath. He loved using colored lighting to great effect, something Roger Corman quickly picked up on and many horror directors have since adapted. Bava was extremely influential on modern horror.

Bava was also literary minded. While he was one of the writers for Black Sabbath, the stories themselves are not originals, but adaptations. The first story, “The Drop of Water” is from Chekhov. No, not Anton but rather Ivan though they carefully omit that part. The best segment, “The Wurdalak”, is an adaptation of a story by Tolstoy. No, not Leo but rather Aleksei (though strangely introduced in the movie as Ivan).

“The Drop of Water” is a good tale of greed and, naturally, comeuppance. The distractions are reminiscent of Poe but it is the body of the Countess that is most striking. I could see children having nightmares from it and it is very creepy, especially for 1963. The distorted features of her face appear to have an influence on films as recent as The Gravedancers.

The second story, “The Telephone” is a disappointing mess. It does not fit in with the Italian version of Black Sabbath as it is really just a noir with a lesbian subplot. For the American version, they make it supernatural by stating that Frank is dead (in the Italian version Frank just got out of prison) and completely eliminating all lesbianism, though you can pick up much from the body language and the rather strained, dubbed dialogue.

The final story, “The Wurdalak” is the real reason to watch Black Sabbath. The story is about a rather different sort of vampire. Boris Karloff appears in this story and gives one of his better performances. Mark Damon, who made a career out of being the American ‘star’ in Italian productions, is the male lead here.

People Watch: Yes, this Italian horror movie is where heavy metal rockers Black Sabbath got their name.

Boris Karloff – Horror Movie Month

William Henry Pratt is not a moniker to conjure monsters with but Boris Karloff is a wonderfully spooky stage name for the British actor. Here are some of his instant Netflix films.

Son of Frankenstein (1939)

When Wolf von Frankenstein (Basil Rathbone), son of the infamous madman, returns to the estate to claim his inheritance, he finds the deranged Ygor (Bela Lugosi) hiding in the castle with the comatose monster (Boris Karloff). On Ygor’s pleading, Frankenstein revives his father’s creation. And Ygor takes his revenge on those who condemned him. Lionel Atwill and Josephine Hutchinson also star in this third tale in the classic horror franchise.

The third of Universal’s eight movie Frankenstein series is the last one that can be taken seriously. It is also the last time Karloff would portray the monster. Basil Rathbone is fun as the titular son of Frankenstein but is easily upstaged by Karloff, Lugosi, and even Lionel Atwill. Bela Lugosi is simply wonderful as Ygor and is more riveting than Karloff as the monster. Lionel Atwill steals the show as the suspicious Krogh.

This is the fun Frankenstein – the first two films are better but don’t hold up well to repeated viewings (too many long plot stretches) and the ones that follow this descend into camp. Digression – the same can be said of Alien. Alien is a better movie than Aliens – a whole new world is developed from scratch and explored in a stately manner but Aliens is undoubtedly the more fun movie as the initial concepts do not need to be explained at length.

If you have not seen this but feel a sense of deja vu that is because Mel Brooks drew most of his inspiration for Young Frankenstein specifically from this film with Kenneth Mars doing an uncanny Atwill.

Comedy of Terrors (1963)

A financial crisis forces undertaker Waldo Trumbull (Vincent Price) to start taking extreme measures. Rather than waiting for new clients to show up naturally, Waldo and his assistant (Peter Lorre) attract new business by killing wealthy individuals in their sleep. Now if only Waldo could just do away with his wife, Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson), and annoying father-in-law (Boris Karloff).

This is a Vincent Price and Peter Lorre film and they are wonderful as always but Karloff steals the show as Price’s aged father-in-law. This features much of the same cast as The Raven but is not as funny – or rather the humor in it has not aged as well. Still Price, Lorre, and Karloff have a lot of fun and even Basil Rathbone shows up briefly. It is well crafted if cheaply shot by Jacques Tourneur.

Black Sabbath (1963) – Not rated

In this 1963 trilogy of chilling tales, a beautiful woman’s ex-lover terrorizes her, a father returns home a vampire, and a ghost haunts a nurse. The vampire story — probably the most famous of the three — stars a poignant Boris Karloff, who also plays host for the anthology. Italian horror impresario Mario Bava served as writer, director and cinematographer for the film, and composer Les Baxter serves up the martini-soaked lounge score.

A wonderful film and a great starting point if you haven’t experienced Italian horror. The best Italian horror movies feature incredible atmosphere but are often nonsensical plotwise. This one has both and Mario Bava is a master of mood. The wurdalak segment is easily the best and Karloff gives one of his best performances ever.