Title: Black Sabbath (1963)
Director: Mario Bava, Salvatore Billitteri
Stars: Boris Karloff, Michele Mercier, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen
I should hang my head in shame for not having seen Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath before. But, as I’ve said a few times before on this blog, it’s for gems like this film that a film fan lives for. I had no idea I was missing out on such a great filmmaker. I think I left Bava in the back burner because when a horror fan sets out to watch the best of Italian horror films, one usually starts by the more talked about horror directors like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Why Mario Bava isn’t mentioned more is beyond me. His films are definitely underrated. Black Sabbath is an anthology made up of three different horror stories. They go as follows:
The Telephone - A story about a beautiful young woman who starts receiving phone calls from a murderer. He says he is going to kill her before the night is over. She is horrified so she calls her lesbian lover to comfort her. Who is this unseen killer? And will he get to these girls?
The Wurdalak - This story is about a vampire who comes home to his non vampire family. Slowly but surely, he starts turning his whole family into vampires or ‘Wurdalak’s’ as they are called in this story. Will the Wurdalak turn his whole family into vampires or will he be stopped in time to save them?
The Drop of Water - This is the story of a nurse who has to prepare the corpse of a dead medium, who died while she was still in a trance with the dead! While preparing the corpse for burial, she notices the dead woman has an expensive piece of jewelry on her finger. She steals it and takes it home with her! What will the price be for stealing from the dead?
So these three stories make up the film, which is tied up with an introduction by Boris Karloff, where he warns us about how frightening and horrifying the film we are about to watch is going to be. Then after the three stories are over, Karloff returns to tell us to be careful when we leave the theater, cause there’s lots of horrors waiting for us out there in the real world as well. The ending reminded me immediately of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. When you see both films you’ll see why.
But one cannot talk about Black Sabbath without mentioning how beautiful the film is. This film could quite possibly be one of the most beautiful looking horror films I’ve seen in my life. Right up there with Dario Argento’s Suspiria because of how the colors over saturate the screen. I haven’t seen all of Mario Bava’s films (yet) but if the previews are any indication of what his films are like, then it seems he loves drenching the screen with the most vivid colors. I absolutely loved this about Bava’s films! They are eye candy! On Black Sabbath, colors are placed on the screen to enhance the mood and feeling of dread. To augment atmosphere. I thought Argento was so original with his usage of color, now I see where that comes from. Bava is the true master, Argento was simply following in his footsteps. It seems Bava has influenced a great deal of directors, including Wes Craven who obviously saw this film before writing the opening sequence for Scream (1996). That whole opening sequence with Drew Barrymore talking with the killer on the phone? Bava had already done it here with the opening segment called The Telephone. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) borrowed heavily from this segment as well. I think Tim Burton was also influenced from a visual standpoint by this film as well for Sleepy Hollow (1999).
Okay, this is the part of the review where I gush over the hot babes that Bava put on this film. Sorry but I just got to do it. And this is not from a chauvinist pig point of view, this is just from a normal regular dude’s point of view. My hats down to Bava for using such beautiful actresses on this film! I’m sure I’m not the only one who agrees with me because I was watching this one with a friend and we were both like “Wow! These chicks are so hot!” We kept doing this through out the duration of the whole film, because there’s beautiful women all through out the film. These actresses were more then just beautiful, these girls were the reason why the word “bombshell” was invented. I loved how Bava starts out “The Telephone” story with this sexy character (Michele Mercier playing Rosy) undressing. Bava cleverly manipulates the male audience to cheer. He wants guys to scream and holler for this beautiful girl. I loved how Bava orchestrated this scene because when Rosy picks up the phone, the killer tells her “your body is so beautiful, it could drive a man insane!” This scene is interesting because if you are a guy and you were cheering like a wolf for this beautiful girl, after you hear what the killer says you feel like a douche bag because you are thinking same way the killer was. Genius directing right there! Speakin of Bava's directing abilities, they guy sure can direct a suspenseful scene. I felt that this movie was directed by a true director, cleverly manipulating his audiences feelings and expectations. There is a scene in "The Drop of Water", where the tension is built by simply having a drop of water falling, and a light flashing on and off outside of the house. Bava completely understood the importance of mood, and atmosphere. He understood the importance of music and sound effects in a horror movie.
One thing that I noticed about this movie is the care and attention that was paid to the art direction and the lighting. The colors are beautiful, they compliment the mood and augment the atmosphere, but the art direction, the sets, are a beauty to look at. I love it when directors take special attention with the art direction, it makes everything that much more special. I felt as if extra care was put in making everything look perfect, every pot and pan, every chair, every flower vase, lamp, everything carefully selected and lit. Loved that about this movie. Its visually rich. Attention was paid to conveying a dreadful mood and atmosphere, specially on the last two stories; “The Wurdalak” and “The Drop of Water”. There are moments when the wind never stops howling! I loved that! The dead trees, the spooky forest, the fog, the old house…hell, this movie even has a scene with werewolves howling in the background! It was all pitch perfect! "The Wurdalak" felt like a true blue old school horror movie, augmented by Boris Karloff’s amazing performance. Speaking of Karloff, his performance on this one is one of his best. His Wurdalak was a truly evil character, but in a very non traditional and subtle way! This certainly is an unconventional take on vampirism.
What I loved the most about this movie is that its purely a horror movie. It had so many classy looking horror moments. I will go down as saying that I liked Black Sabbath more then any Dario Argento movie I have seen. I thought Argento was the master in using colors, but the truth is that Bava was the first and original, Argento was simply his pupil. This film felt like a horror comic book come to life, like an old EC horror comic, which I’m pretty sure is what Bava was going for when he made this one, with Boris Karloff as the crypt keeper. That was genius! Its also a film that was ahead of its time. Its very edgy playing with lesbian themes and even having children die! Black Sabbath is a true work of art and one of the best Italian horror films ever made. It’s one of the best horror films, period. Not to be missed.
Rating: 5 out of 5