Black Sabbath (1963) Review

Black SabbathOne of the many wonderful things about horror is that is one of the only genre’s of film where the anthology format really works. Like telling ghost stories round a camp fire horror movies made up of several short tales of terror have been popular and successful for decades.

From the brilliant 1945 British horror Dead of Night to classics Tales from the Crypt and Creepshow to Asian horror Three Extremes and 2007’s Trick r’ Treat these freakish films formatted with a mish mash of menacing mini masterpieces always work well and Mario Bava’s 1963 Black Sabbath is another excellent example of the genre.

Famously Bava’s film gave Ozzy Osbourne’s heavy metal band their name due to the fact their rehearsal room was opposite a cinema showing Black Sabbath and the epic queue to see the film prompted one of the band members to comment “strange that people spend so much money to see scary movies” not only shaping the bands future and firming their place in music history but an afterlife long relationship between heavy metal and horror.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath, known as The Three Faces of Fear in Italian, is made up unsurprisingly of three segments linked together by horror icon Boris Karloff acting as our narrator into the unknown.Black Sabbath

Released by Arrow the new Blu-Ray and DVD editions offer the movie up in two different forms the original Italian version and the reedited American version both with different soundtracks, scenes and orders to the short stories.

Each film revolves around different themes found in Bava’s movies before and afterwards with The Drop of Water set in Victorian England concerning itself with the supernatural. Opening with a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) called to the extravagant mansion of a recently deceased old woman to deal with the body we soon learn the lady of the house was a medium who died contacting the spirit world.

Thinking such things as merely mumbo jumbo the nurse prepares the body and steals an ornate ring as payment for her troubles. Returning home so soon realizes she has brought more than just the stolen jewelry back with her.

Second up is The Telephone a story dramatically different in the two versions of the film with the Italian original crafting a Giallo style murder mystery involving a young woman named Rosy (Michèle Mercier) her lesbian lover and their pimp entangled in a web of lies and deceit.

Black Sabbath

The US version strangely ignores the female love story also making the whole thing about the ghostly return of Rosy’s former pimp from the dead with both using harrowing and harassing phone calls to move the menace forward.

Last is The Wurdalak adapted from a story by Tolstoy set in the 19th century and staring Karloff as the patriarch of a family who has left them to hunt and kill a dangerous bandit who they believed to be a Wurdalak, a type of vampire creature who only kills those he loves.

When a young nobleman comes across the bandits body he is taken in by the family who await there father however when the triumphant head of the house does come back they are unsure if it is him or the Wurdalak hungry for their blood.

Black Sabbath

Showcasing the archaic gothic horror of Bava’s Black Sunday and Baron Blood and the psychedelic sexualized supernatural elements found in Lisa and the Devil, Black Sabbath is a spooky smorgasbord of Bava’s favorite horror elements and ideas all filmed with his flair and style on some strikingly spectacular sets.

Even though Karloff’s narration is slightly cheesy this light relief works well when the three films offer all out terror and he delivers a great performance in his segment along with the rest of the great cast of actors who bring each story to life.

Black SabbathBlack Sabbath

Bava manages to make all three movies entertaining and individual and the solid stories are all equally engaging meaning the there is never a lull in the petrifying proceedings. The effects are also surprisingly good especially in The Drop of Water perhaps the scariest section due to the horrific image of the dead medium which scares the nurse to death and will be burnt onto your brain once you have watched the movie.

A great portmanteau horror movie made all the better by Arrows amazing transfer and release packed with extras Bava’s Black Sabbath is a must for horror fans who will hopefully find it as inspirational as Ozzy and his mates did.

Movie Rating: ★

★ ★ ½ ☆ 



Alex Humphrey

Alex studied film at the University of Kent and went on to work for Universal Pictures in their Post Room gaining an inside look at the movie industry from the very bottom. Constantly writing reviews in everything from local magazines to Hip Hop sites Alex honed his critical skills even spending a brief period as a restaurant critic. Read more

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