Black Sabbath (Italy 1963)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/14/22
Director: Mario Bava
Cast: Boris Karloff, Michèle Mercier, Jacqueline Pierreux, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen

A stylish horror anthology by Mario Bava bookended by Boris Karloff warning about vampires. The film contains three separate stories, taking place across different time periods. The first (and arguably best) is "The Telephone," starring Michèle Mercier as a prostitute named Rosy who receives threatening phone calls from a man who wants to kill her. The set, lighting, and cinematography are superb, and Michèle Mercier is extremely sexy. While it doesn't contain any surprises, it creates a tense atmosphere that doles out new clues at a steady and satisfying pace. The second and longest segment is a period piece called "The Wurdulak," which is about a vampire hunter (Boris Karloff) who endangers his family when he becomes a vampire himself. A visiting stranger (Mark Damon) doesn't believe in such superstitious nonsense until it's too late. All he cares about is Susy Andersen's heaving bosom. The final segment is "A Drop Of Water," featuring a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) who steals a cursed ring from a corpse. Or maybe it's the corpse that is cursed. Regardless, the consequences of her actions prove to be fatal.

It's a gorgeous production, and Mario Bava's use of light and color is stunning. The film does an excellent job of creating tension, and a feeling of dread permeates the entire show. That said, the pacing can be challenging (especially during "The Wurdulak"), which can make you impatient if you're not fully engaged in the drama and characters. Bava relies on atmosphere to generate fear, and while it's rare for a film to give me chills, "A Drop Of Water" did just that.

What I found most interesting was how straight forward the stories are. With horror these days, there's an expectation for a surprise ending or twist in perspective, where the audience is purposely led astray so that things aren't what they seem. But the stories in "Black Sabbath" have no such trappings and no surprises. They are exactly what they set out to be. So ironically, the biggest surprise in "The Wurdulak" was that there were no plot twists or surprises. Boris Karloff was indeed a wurdulak, and he killed his family just like we were told he would do. It's actually rather mundane from a narrative perspective, which forces the actors, set design, and cinematography to make it interesting.

It's also worth pointing out that I saw the original Italian version of the movie, and not the re-edited and re-scored American release. The American version reportedly toned down the violence and gore (although there's very little of that to begin with), re-ordered the sequence of stories, and included introductory links by Boris Karloff. "The Telephone" was completely revised to use a ghost instead of an escaped convict, and completely dismisses Rosy's occupation and relationship with Mary. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Italian version is that it's obviously dubbed in Italian, but the actors are clearly speaking in English (which was a popular approach with AIP co-productions). It's a real disappointment hearing Boris Karloff's wonderful voice dubbed in Italian.