18th May2013

‘Black Sabbath’ Blu-ray Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Boris Karloff, Michèle Mercier, Lidia Alfonsi, Jacqueline Pierreux, Gustavo De Nardo, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi | Written by Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato | Directed by Mario Bava

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Mario Bava had been steadily working away in Italian cinema before he hit it big with 1960s Black Sunday, a film which introduced many to both his work and to Italian horror cinema in general. In fact his 1960 opus was such as success that a horror follow-up was eagerly demanded. An so came Black Sabbath, a three-part horror anthology blending modern and period stories, featuring the iconic Boris Karloff as host and star of one of the segments.

Black Sabbath opens with the Victorian-era ‘The Drop of Water’, in which a nurse steals a ring from the corpse of a dead spiritualist, who naturally tries to get it back. This is swiftly followed by the giallo-style ‘The Telephone’, where a woman is terrorised by her former pimp after his escape from prison, and tries to escape him with the help of her lesbian lover, who has a dark secret of her own. However Bava saves the best tale for last – the 19th-century set ‘The Wurdalak’ the only tale in this anthology to feature the great Boris Karloff as a much-loved paterfamilias who might not be entirely what he seems. This tale is also the closest, thematically and visually, to Black Sunday.

From an era that placed atmosphere and storytelling over visual effects and gore, Black Sabbath seems remarkably quaint when viewed today – even when compared to its filmic peers from Tigon and Hammer. The movie is also somewhat of an oddity. From the same era as Hammer yet feeling far removed from that studios output; it was lensed in Italy, yet the tales in this anthology are actually based on stories by Russian writers Chekhov and Tolstoy! Yet Bava manages to bring everything together in a movie that both harkens to horror cinema of the past yet sign-posts Italian cinemas future.

Black Sabbath comes to Blu-ray, courtesy of Arrow Video, in two editions: I tre volti della paura – the European version with score by Roberto Nicolosi and the more familiar AIP release Black Sabbath, re-edited and re-dubbed with Les Baxter score; and both versions of the film look and sound remarkable – especially given the films age. Arrow’s restoration is easily on a par (if not better) with the restored Hammer films from Studio Canal and actually looks better than their release of Bava’s Baron Blood, even though that film was lensed almost a decade later.

An example of superb 60s horror, Black Sabbath is out now from Arrow Video.

Film: **** 4/5Blu-ray: ***** 5/5

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