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.