Mario Bava did rather a lot in his time. He co-directed the first Italian horror movie (I Vampiri in 1957), was cinematographer on the first Italian sci-fi movie (The Day the Sky Exploded in 1958) and then, when he had five minutes to spare, he invented the giallo genre with The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963). Not only that, most of his movies were quite good and proved massively influential to boot. In 1963 he also had a bash at a horror portmanteau with I tre volti della paura (The Three Faces of Fear), as it was known in Italy. Everywhere else it was known as Black Sabbath and inspired the Birmingham band Earth to change their name. Blimey, he even invented British Heavy Metal.
The whole thing is linked together with Boris Karloff in jovial form as our host and the stories are allegedly all from literary sources (if you’re liberal with your references). The Italian and US releases are so different that the stories aren’t even in the same order, but sticking with the Italian running order, we have…
The Telephone: Slightly odd one as, in its Italian form, it isn’t even supernatural. A woman gets some disturbing phone calls from the mysterious Frank who can see what she’s up to. Set in modern times this is really just a giallo short and so the first to bring that important colour to the genre.
The Wurdalak: Boris is actually in this one (and it’s the only time he played a vampire, we believe). The longest story here and a genuinely chilling tale of vampires that only kill the ones they love.
The Drop of Water: The real gem. A nurse in (an unconvincing) Victorian London attends to the body of an old lady who was a medium before she left this mortal coil. As she also looks absolutely terrifying even as a dummy made for the film, the last thing you’d do is nick her ring. Oh, what is she doing? What did we just say? This is great fun and far more frightening than it has any right to be.
Bava’s use of colour was something of a signature and became a hallmark of giallo so in all honesty, Blu-ray is the only way to watch these movies nowadays and the quality is pretty good. You also really need both versions because the Italian version is better even if there’s only so much dubbed Boris Karloff you can put up with. In fact, the differences are so great that this disc gives you a handy 30-minute split screen feature to point out where they’re different in case you weren’t taking notes. Throw in Tim Lucas’s informative commentary and the only other thing you could want is the comedy ending with Boris Karloff on a fake horse. Don’t worry, it’s there on the Italian version.
Extras: Italian and English versions, audio commentary with Bava biographer and expert Tim Lucas plus Twice the Fear, a comparison of the different versions of the film
BLACK SABBATH (1963) / DIRECTOR: MARIO BAVA / SCREENPLAY: MARCELLO FONDATO, ALBERT BEVILACQUA, MARIO BAVA / STARRING: BORIS KARLOFF, MARK DAMON, MICHÈLE MERCIER, SUSY ANDERSON, LYDIA ALFONSI, GLAUCO ONORATO, JACQUELINE PIERREUX / RELEASED: OUT NOW