Black Sabbath (1963): Review

Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michele Mercier

Mario Bava is not a small name in the horror community, often spoken alongside Dario Argento as a master of Italian horror. I, unfortunately, had not accessed his works until recently – and I now realize how much I’ve been missing out on. “Black Sabbath,” an early effort following the success of the great and similarly-titled “Black Sunday,” is a grand example of his work – atmospheric, beautiful, colorful, and frightening.

Also called “I tre volti della paura” (The Three Faces of Fear), this film weaves three separate stories into one work through the expert narration of Boris Karloff. The segments each stand on their own: “The Drop of Water,” based on a Chekov story, tells the tale of a nurse who steals from a deceased client and is haunted (by her guilt… or something worse?); “The Telephone” is an early version of Scream, watching as a woman is stalked by a mysterious caller who can see her every move; and “The Wurdalak,” a classic vampire fable about an outsider who is caught up in a cursed family (featuring Karloff himself as a particularly vicious vampire).

Each story contains its own rich atmosphere and unique horrors, which is remarkable for any anthology. Bava is the master of Grand Guignol horror – technicolor lighting, fog-filled sets, and outlandishly grotesque phantoms abound in “Black Sabbath.” The stories are certainly not even in terms of quality, but they fit together seamlessly, matching in visual style more than anything else. And, in my opinion, each contains its own level of dread and fear – another remarkable achievement.

My personal favorite was “The Wurdalak,” due to the classical Gothic imagery and the intense darkness of the story – there are some disturbing moments that go beyond fun, spooky horror. And who doesn’t want to see Boris Karloff playing a dreadful vampire? But, I enjoyed all of the stories separately, and was impressed by how chilling they each managed to be.

I highly recommend “Black Sabbath” for any fan of classic horror, or anyone looking for a fun and creepy movie to fill the chilly October nights. Bava does not disappoint – this film is, for all its embellishments, quite scary.

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