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August 2, 2013

Movie Review: Black Sabbath (1963, Blu-ray/DVD combo pack)

Review By: Rob Sibley

  Mario Bava is the king of Italian horror, plain and simple. Don't get me wrong I am obsessed with Italian masters of horror. Dario Argento, Lucio Fulchi, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, Luigi Cozzi and Pupi Avati all are brilliant filmmakers. But Bava was special... some may call his films old fashioned. If by old fashioned you meant classy I'd agree. Bava single handily created the Giallo genre and at the same time (to me) did the first true slasher film with Bay of Blood. A film which was ripped off more times then I can count. Let's just say you wouldn't have Friday the 13th 1 or 2 without Bay. You wouldn't have all the great early Giallo's from Argento if it wasn't for The Girl who knew too much and Blood and Black Lace.

Bava was ahead of his time, other filmmakers were just playing catch up. He was a man of many talents, not only an excellent director but a phenomenal cinematographer and writer. Look at “Hatchet For the Honeymoon” and tell me Brett Easton Ellis wasn't inspired by it for American Psycho. Bava didn't always just make horror films. He directed the criminally underrated epic “Hercules: In The Haunted World” and the Viking epic Erik The Conqueror. He also wasn't afraid to add humor to his films. His films often were filled with irony and pitch black humor.

Bava also crafted what is to me one of the finest anthology’s of all time. This brings me to “Black Sabbath”, a nearly perfect film. The film is probably best known for the fact that Boris Karloff was in it and hosted the opening segment. With Black Sabbath, Bava was able to tell three tales. Each totally different from each other. One's a Giallo, the other is a vampire film and the last is a haunting ghost story. All three segments boast rich production values and truly feel like mini movies. 

The film starts out with a cheeky Rod Sterling esque introduction from Boris Karloff (as himself) warning you about the tales of terror that you're about to witness. It's fun but it's the only bit that doesn't really fit in the film. Karloff returns for the second segment which will be discussed in a bit. We start off our first tale with "The Telephone" which must have atleast slightly influenced "When A Stranger Calls". 

 Rosy (Michele Mercier) is a high end call girl who lives in a very nice flat in Paris. Everything is going peachy keen as she returns home and begins to disrobe (Thank you Bava). But the phone rings and she begins to get a series of increasingly disturbing phone calls of a man demanding her blood (Sound familiar? The only line missing is Have you checked the children.) Anyway, Rosy is obviously distraught so she phones her Lesbian lover to come on over and hang out. To make matters worse for Rosy, her previous lover Frank and pimp has escape from prison. What's the big deal about that? Well it was Rosy's tesitomoney at court that got Frank locked up! 

The Telephone is beautifully shot, each frame could easily be be hung up in an art gallery. This segment doesn't have any fat, it's to the point and quick paced. I'd love to discuss this gem more but it would be way to easy to spoil the twists. Performances are strong Michele Mercier who skyrocketed to stardom in Italy for the movie "Angelique" which was followed up with five sequels. Like a lot of the Italian leading ladies of the 60's, Mercier just exudes sexuality. It also helps that Bava always knows to photograph buetiful women like very few directors know how to do. Look at "Shock" that was the best that Daria Nicolodi ever looked. Or even Elke Sommer's in Lisa and The Devil. Unlike Bava's earlier work, their is nothing gothic about The Telephone. It's a very modern (for it's time) little story. The segment is a tight nit claustrophobic little shocker.

Next up is my personal favorite "The Wurdulak", a truly unique vampire tale. This segment stars Mark Damon (A frequent Bava collaberator) as the dashing nobleman Vladimir Durfe. One day while riding his horse around the rocky early 19th century Russia he comes across a body with no head and a dagger in it's back. He takes the dagger with him and as night falls he comes across a little cottage. He knocks and seeks shelter and is happily invited in. But something is amiss though, turns out the dagger Vladimir discovered imbedded in the corpse belongs to the patriarch of the family Gorcha (Boris Karloff). Who has been missing for five days... why? Because he went out to hunt a known convict and Wurdulak (A Vampire).

Gorcha informed the family that if he has not returned by the fifth day at midnight do not let him in. Well the family and Vladimir wait around and as the clock strikes midnight Gorcha appears. The family is terrified (rightfully so), every-time they inquire about Gorcha's travels he get's confrontational. It soon becomes very apparent that Gorcha is indeed a vampire and that the family and Vladimir are in for a helluva a night.

Filled with a wonderfully grim atmosphere, The Wurdulak is the best of three tales. Mainly do to the horrifying performance from Karloff. He is truly frightening in his role and you can tell he is relishing the role. The film is filled with plenty of creep moments such as Gorcha taking a very odd interest in his grandson which leads to some very uncomfortable moments. This is the longest of the three stories and it does feel like a feature film. It's one of the most unique vampire films I've ever seen. No garlic and crosses don't do jack shit in this one.

Lastly we have "The Drop Of Water", a segment which clearly influenced many J-horror pictures. The setting is Victorian London, our main character is a nurse by the name of Chester (Jacqueline Pierreux). One night she gets a call to prepare a body of a dead medium for her funeral. She notices a sapphire ring on the dead women's finger... greed kicks in and she takes the ring. What kind of harm could that cause you say? Well strange events starts to plague Ms. Chester. Her lights in her apartment flicker on and off. She harassed by a very persistent fly and other creepy things.

This is probably my least favorite of all the three stories. It's not that it's a bad mini film at all, but "Wurdulak" was so damn good that you of coarse will be disappointed. But this is still a highly effective bit of shock, which features more then a few creepy moments that will stick with you once the ending credits roll.

Arrow UK has gone all out with this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. First off you get two different versions of the film. The original Italian cut and the A.I.P. cut that Sam Arkoff put together. The Italian cut is by far the superior choice but the A.I.P. cut does has Karloff's real voice though. Also the American cut removed the lesbian subplot from The Telephone and rearranged the stories.

Visually both cuts look superb. The 1080P anomorphic widescreen transfer is revelation for anyone who has seen the film on DVD from Image or Anchor Bay. The DTS audio tracks are equally pleasing and offer an immersive experience.

Extra's consist of "Twice The Fear" which is a 25 minute piece that goes into heavy detail about the two different cuts of the film. Next up is a commentary from Mr. Video Watchdog himself Tim Lucas and also author of Mario Bava: All the colors of the dark (Which I'd love to buy but the 300 dollar price tag is a bit much). As per usual Lucas gives a fantastic commentary track. You also get an introduction by the awesome Alan Jones (Author of Profondo Argento). Last up is a fun 21 minute interview with actor Mark Damon.

Arrow always does Bava justice and this is the definitive release of Black Sabbath. A MUST OWN.


  1. Is this Blu Ray region free? I would love to purchase it but I do not own a region free Blu Ray player.

  2. It's region 2 but considerbly better than the Redemption release.