Movie Review: “Black Sabbath” – Classically Scary

Written by Angela May 12, 2014


April 25th marked the 34th anniversary of the passing of Mario Bava, a masterful Italian cinematographer, screenwriter and director during the 1960s-1980s. While his name may not ring any immediate bells, Bava’s work is often cited by those in the know as directly generating the bloody and exploitative giallo genre, which eventually spawned the slasher film. Seeing as several of his films are considered to be absolute staples in horror, taking the time to view them is the duty of any fan worth their salt. First up is 1963’s “Black Sabbath.”

“I hope you didn’t come to the movies alone.”

“Black Sabbath” (yes, the band is named after this very film) is an anthology framed by the legendary Boris Karloff. Not unlike the show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, Karloff greets us as our host for an evening of murder, monsters and vengeful ghosts. BS1

“As you will realize by watching this film…

While conventional American producers during this era brushed off horror movies as the stuff of low-budget camp for less mature audiences, European filmmakers like Bava took the genre quite seriously. His pride and earnestness for his work can be seen in the gorgeous photography of each story, which each encompass a sub-genre of horror. The first short, entitled “The Telephone”, is a preliminary attempt at the giallo movies for which Bava was at the time only beginning to develop. Featuring an erotic murder mystery plot, it tells the tale of a dangerous game of late-night prank calling. The story is devoid of any supernatural elements, yet the frenzied pacing and performances are strong enough on their own to instill uneasiness. Modern day audiences may even be rather surprised by its overtly scandalous (for the time) subject-matter touching upon prostitution and lesbian love affairs. More suspenseful than scary, “The Telephone” is nonetheless dripping with the stylish imagery for which Bava became a legend. BS2

specters and vampires are everywhere.”

“The Wurdulak” takes up the breadth of the film. Based upon a nineteenth century French novella that borrows from Slavic folklore, creatures called wurdulaks infest a foggy Russian village and spread by way of biting. As opposed to indiscriminate vampires, wurdulaks rise from the dead solely to take their loved ones with them to the grave. As atmospheric as Bava designed this section to be, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t lag. Aside from the entertaining campiness that is Karloff’s alternate starring role as a granddaddy wurdulak, its long length over the other stories is not deserved and creates an imbalance to the overall film. The good news is that the spooky slow-moving tone invokes the classic gothic feeling unique to both German and Italian cinema from the 1920s onward. While the story is nothing to write home about, the elaborate setting, sound and general feel of this segment is gorgeous enough to keep one’s attention until the end. BS3

“There might be one sitting next to you.”

The scariest segment, and hence my favourite of the three, is “The Drop of Water.” This simple ghost story may be predictable, but it showcases Bava’s many talents as a cinematographer, director, visual effects artist and screenwriter. It has a short run-time and its transition to the final word from Karloff is a tad awkward, but it makes up for the shortcomings of the lengthier section before it. “The Drop of Water” is essentially a universally known fable warning against shortchanging the dead. The tale is at its creepiest through Bava’s expert execution. BS4

“Yes, they go to the movies too, I assure you.”

For its significant impact on pop culture, “Black Sabbath” is an essential milestone in horror film history, and an enjoyable one at that. Even when it slows towards the middle, the imagery and effects are remarkably done; contemporary audiences are sure to benefit from the unparalleled treat that is 1960’s set designs and styling. This lushly detailed anthology is fully deserving of its enduring legacy.

 Overall Rating: 9/10

BS poster

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About Angela

Angela McInnes is an English major and up-and-coming horror film aficionado. To her, happiness is a bottle of rum and a creature-feature on a Saturday night.

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