Blu-ray Review: BLACK SABBATH (1963)

PrintE-mail Written by Graeme Reynolds

Review: Black Sabbath / Cert: 18 / Director: Mario Bava / Screenplay: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato / Starring: Michele Mercier, Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen / Release Date: Out Now

There have been very few horror anthologies over the years that truly produce something memorable, and they have largely gone out of fashion. Looking at most of the movies of this style produced over the years, it’s fairly easy to see why. Often there are only one or two tales that work within an anthology film, with the others being present as filler at best. Fortunately, Black Sabbath is one of the rare horror anthologies that not only remains as atmospheric and powerful as it was when first released fifty years ago, but also manages that rare feat of not having a bad or weak section within it, but then, with director Mario Bava involved, that’s hardly surprising.

The Blu-ray comes with both the original Italian cut and a dubbed US version, as well as the obligatory audio commentary track and a nice little documentary that highlights the differences between the US and Italian versions of the film, of which there are several, the most significant being in The Telephone, where the original Italian version was heavily edited to remove all references to a lesbian love affair between the two female characters, and to give the story a supernatural aspect. It should be noted that the Italian version of the film is superior to the US cut in almost every respect, relying on subtle sound effects to create it’s atmosphere rather than a Hammeresque musical score that sounds rather dated and overdone these days. 

While the original Italian version of The Telephone is a solid and engaging story, the two other tales, A Drop of Water and The Wurdalak are where the film truly shines. A Drop of Water is the chilling tale of a cold-hearted nurse who steals a ring from the corpse of a dead medium, despite being warned by the dead woman’s housekeeper. Unsurprisingly, it does not take long before the nurse begins to experience ghostly visitations, and what follows is an absolute masterclass in the gradual building of terror.

The Wurdalak stars Boris Karloff in one of his last, great roles. It’s the tale of a young Count who discovers a body on the road, and when he arrives at the next house, finds that it was the corpse of a bandit who was reputed to be a Wurdalak – a vampire that feeds on those that it loved. The father of the household, played brilliantly by Karloff, returns later that evening but seems to have a deathly pallor to his skin, and a strange look in his eye when he regards the members of his family.

The Blu-ray transfer is, for the most part, stunning. The striking use of colours comes through vividly, although there are one or two grainy scenes, particularly on the American version. It is rare that a horror film made so long ago can retain its ability to unsettle the viewer. Black Sabbath is a pivotal piece of filmmaking, far ahead of its time, and a milestone in horror movies, heavily influencing the likes of Dario Argento among others. Fans of classic horror films owe it to themselves to track this masterpiece down.

Extras: Audio commentary with film critic Tim Lucas / Intro by Alan Jones / Interview with Mark Damon / Three Faces of Black Sabbath / Trailers / TV and radio spots / Collector's booklet

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