Black Sabbath

Director: Mario Bava   
Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Suzy Anderson

As you have probably guessed by now, I have a weakness for unknown movies. But there are other certain kinds of movies that I have a special fondness for. There are spaghetti westerns, of course. There are also the crazy and over-the-top movies from Hong Kong. I've dealt with multiple examples of those kind of movies. But there is another kind of movie that I try to seek out that I haven't dealt with too many times in all of my movie reviewing on this web site, and that is the anthology movie. Specifically, that kind of movie that also happens to be horror-related. A quick look at all the horror movies I have reviewed on this web site revealed to me that I have only previously reviewed one such movie, and that was Freakshow. When I think about it, that is pretty odd, because I remember I have had a love for this particular film genre for ages. In fact, I can remember my first introduction to this genre. It happened when I was pretty young, and I was accompanying my parents to a book store. In one section of the book store a book caught my eye - this book was the comic novel adaptation of the George Romero / Stephen King movie Creepshow. At that age I was very attracted to cartooning, so I grabbed the book and started to read it - and I could not believe my eyes. Having been raised in a somewhat sheltered environment, I was exposed to five tales chock-full of gore, all in stories that had twists that gave me a kick far harder than in any of the books I had read up to that point of time.

It probably goes without saying that I loved this first exposure to the horror anthology film. In case you are wondering, I did see the actual Creepshow movie several years later, and I was let down - I thought that Romero directed it in a style that should have been more subtle and less campy. But even that disappointing experience did not slow me from wanting more of this genre. Before I was able to sample more films of this style, I satisfied my craving by seeking out one of the main inspirations for Creepshow and other movies like it - reprints of the notorious 1950s comics from EC. Comics like Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror. I gobbled up these comics, though I must admit that I was annoyed that the editor of these reprints would, whenever a specific date was mentioned during a modern day horror story, change it to the actual date I was reading the comic. So there was stuff like people in 1950s clothing involved in stories that were now taking place several decades later - did the editor think that modern readers of these comics were stupid? Though what really annoyed me about the revival of Tales From The Crypt was the TV show that adapted stories from these comics. I admit that I didn't see too many episodes of the show, but what I saw disappointed me - like with the Creepshow movie, all the episodes seemed to be directed in a heavy-handed style that seemed to be mocking the stories, not seeming to understand that the original stories from the comics worked by being presented more or less straight.

I know I was kind of off topic with most of that previous paragraph, so I'll try to get back on track now. Anyway, once I got older, and with the introduction of the VCR to just about everyone, I used that opportunity to watch as many horror anthology movies as I could get. My experiences with these movies has been mixed. There have been some I liked, like Trilogy Of Terror, the famous made for television effort with Karen Black. There was also the British Tales From The Crypt movie and its follow-up Vault Of Horror. There have also been some that I didn't like, and I will confess there are a lot more of those than those I liked. I won't get into those duds except to say that the worse one has to be Mania, a cheap and videotaped effort from Canada which has problems that go far beyond the fact that the twists at the end of each story are painfully predictable right from the start. Despite the fact that I find most horror anthology movies unsuccessful, I am still seeking them out after all these years. Why have I given this genre so many chances after being disappointed most of the time? I had to think about this for a moment, and I came up with several answers. The first is that with an anthology, you get variety; if one story is a dud, you are not stuck with it for the entire running time. There is the strong possibility you will be entertained in different ways. The second reason I seek out these movies is that each of the stories usually contain a twist of some kind. With many movies content to reuse the same ideas, the promise of something unexpected is appealing.

So you can imagine that when I got a copy of Black Sabbath in the mail from my DVD mail renter provider, I was very excited to finally get to watch it. I must admit that I did have the chance to rent it when I was much younger, but I never did, probably because it was an older movie, and back then I had a kind of prejudice against older movies. (I've matured, at least in this regard.) I was excited to get the chance to watch it because it was directed by Mario Bava (Rabid Dogs), not just an Italian director, but one of the best Italian directors I have come across. And the movie is introduced by Boris Karloff, who also appears in one of the stories - so there's something for everyone. The first story is "The Telephone", starring Michele Mercier and Lydia Alfonsi. It starts with Rosy, a woman who at the beginning has just got home after some sort of party. The telephone rings twice, but she just hears silence when she answers it. But the third time it rings, she hears a mysterious stranger who not only has a creepy tone to his voice, but tells her straight out he's going to kill her. Not only that, the owner of this voice seems able to see Rosy as he speaks to her. It soon becomes clear that Rosy is getting a call from a haunted past of hers. But what happened, exactly? To Bava's credit, he does not spoil things by having everything revealed by one long and rambling explanation. He not only reveals things one piece at a time, but just about each revelation brings in a new question. As a result, I was intrigued by what was happening in this segment, and I was fixed until the end.

Let me repeat that last part of the previous paragraph: "Until the end." I was kind of let down when this story reached the end, because there still seemed to be a lot of stuff that wasn't explained. It was never explained, for one thing, just how that mysterious voice was able to guess everything Rosy was doing, sometimes right during the phone call. Then there was the mysterious man; just what was his exact relationship to Rosy? What did he go to prison for? These questions are never answered. Besides questions like these, there were a few other problems I had with this story. The music score sometimes sounds right out of a beatnik coffee shop, hardly spooky. In Bava's defense, a few times he uses little to no noise of any kind on the soundtrack. He is careful to not let this technique go too long when he uses it, and it gives these parts of the movie an eerie feeling. And I can't say I was bored at any time with this story, despite its lack of explanation and other faults. Anyway, on to the next story, this one titled "The Wurdulak". Unlike the first story, this one takes place years before the telephone existed. A nobleman traveling across country finds a decapitated body in the countryside, and takes it with him. In the evening he comes across a house, and the family inside identifies the body as a criminal who had been terrorizing the area. But the family is still afraid of a "wurdulak" out there, and tell the nobleman not to stay the night. He chooses to do so despite the warnings... and he finds out why he should fear a wurdulak, though the fact that Boris Karloff plays one such creature should have given him an early warning.

"The Wurdulak" is a more successful story than the previous one. I won't deny that, unlike the first story, it doesn't contain any surprising twists - even casual horror fans will get an idea of what will happen before it actually happens. But it is a professionally made telling of old material. It has the trademark haunting atmosphere associated with Bava, with outdoor scenes packed with material like snow patches, fog, ruined buildings, and trees with no leaves. The musical score is also better during the times it plays, and Bava again picks the right times when to let a silent atmosphere play. The third and final story is "A Drop Of Water", taking place at a time between the first and second stories. A nurse is called one night to the house of a countess who has just died. When she gets to the body, she spies an attractive ring on one of the countess' fingers. She takes the ring, despite the fact that the countess' servant has just told her how the countess liked sťances and talking to the dead, and that she died during a sťance. Okay, so this story is even more familiar than the previous one, but like the previous story, it has been livened up by Bava. There are spooky little touches, like the face of the countess' corpse or (strangely) an overhead lamp that slowly descends over the dress the countess is to be buried in. The interiors are shot in an effective mix of shadows and blocks of color that almost pop out the screen. And Bava does not insult our intelligence by dragging this story out - there's little that could be called padding, and it ends when it needs to end. Black Sabbath is not perfect, but there is always something to keep your interest, and shows how a good director can liven up a flawed script.

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See also: Freakshow, Rabid Dogs, Son Of Frankenstein