“Black Sabbath” (1963)

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By Jerome Reuter

The works in Mario Bava’s filmography are some of the most unique you’ll ever find. Bava Himself was an auteur, in every sense of the word. He applied his unique visual style to a wide variety of films. In works such as Blood And Black Lace, The Girl Who Knew To Much, Bay Of Blood, and Five Dolls For An August Moon, he established the Giallo subgenre. In works such as Hatchet For The Honeymoon and Lisa And The Devil, he played upon our curiosity of the supernatural. In his first film Black Sunday, he brought gothic horror to life on the silver screen. It’s his 1963 film Black Sabbath however, that encompasses all these themes. It’s no surprise that many consider it his best work.

Black Sabbath is an anthology film, comprising three stories. Each one vastly different from the other, but dripping with Bava’s signature cinematography and gift for lighting. These stories are hosted by one of the screens original heavyweights, Boris Karloff. (Birth name William Henry Pratt.) Karloff’s performance in this film is one of his most memorable. Bava utilizes Karloff to his full potential. Karloff was somewhat of a chameleon in his acting career, someone who could adapt to whatever setting he needed to. He could play the monster, the madman, and when necessary the sophisticated Englishman. In addition to hosting these tales of terror, he also appears in our second story.

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Our anthology begins with a segment called ‘The Telephone.’ Bava returns to his Giallo roots, and confines the terror to a single apartment. He emphasizes mystery over violence, relying on a telephone conversation, and a mysterious voyeur to build an atmosphere of suspense. In some ways, this is almost a slight homage to the American film Sorry, Wrong Number, where a mysterious telephone conversation builds a mystery.

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Karloff stars in our second segment, entitled ‘The Wurdalak.’ In some ways, this is Bava revisiting the type of story he formulated in Black Sunday. Set in Eastern Europe, and concerning a mysterious blood-sucking creature. Karloff transforms himself from the sophisticate, to the madman. Even in his later years, Karloff never let his on-screen persona fade. This is a well-paced tale of gothic horror, one that stands out among out trilogy.

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Our third and final installment is a journey into greed and madness. In the segment called ‘Drips Of Water’ we see a sort of revenge from beyond the grave. To paraphrase a line from Charlie Chaplin from The Great Dictator; “Greed has poisoned men’s’ souls.” Bava takes one of the original sins, and uses it as a narrative for a cautionary tale. This isn’t the first time he’s used this approach. These are central themes found in Bay Of Blood, and Five Dolls For An August Moon. He shows us the darker side of human nature, and the results that may occur.

If you’re well familiar with Bava’s filmography, you’ve seen this quite a few times. If you’re new to one of Horror’s greatest auteurs, this is the perfect starting point. This film gives you a taste of the color, themes, and madness you’ll find contained within his filmography. It’s also one of Karloff’s shining moments as an actor.

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