Black Sabbath Blu-ray Review
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Ivan Chekhov, Marcello Fondato, F.G Snyder, Aleksei Tolstoy
1963, Region B2, 96 minutes, Rated 18
Blu-ray released on 13th May 2013
Boris Karloff as Gorca
Lidia Alfonsi as Mary
Mark Damon as Vladimire d'Urfe
Susy Andersen as Sdenka
Massimo Righi as Pietro
Rika Dialina as Maria
No, nothing to do with Ozzy Osbourne and friends. At least, not directly. The Brummie metalheads were so enamoured with the British title of this horror film that they pinched it for the name of their little rock band. Bat heads remain relatively unmolested in Black Sabbath, a classy yet grotesque horror anthology from the hand of genre legend Mario Bava. Horror anthologies are a format renowned for their hit-and-miss nature, but if anyone can make it stick, it's the original super Mario.
To my shame, I confess myself unfamiliar with Black Sabbath or, indeed, much of Bava's work. Prior to actually watching it, I had assumed it was just another Giallo movie, like his A Bay of Blood (which is far from 'just another' Giallo movie). While there are elements of Giallo to Black Sabbath, it is in fact an even more conventional form of horror film than I had anticipated. Its stories sound awfully like rejected scripts from Tales from the Dark Side or From the Crypt – a 1900s era nurse makes a terrible mistake while preparing the corpse of a patient; a woman is terrorised in her apartment by telephone calls from a crazed convict; a vampire is compelled to feed upon the blood of his loved ones – but Bava's handling of them elevates it far above that level. All that and Boris Karloff too. Mr. Bava, you spoil us.
Since the recent success of V/H/S and its sequel, the humble horror anthology has undergone something of a resurgence of popularity. Bava shows the new kids on the block how its done with this, the best portmanteau I've ever seen (apart from maybe that one with Joan Collins and Santa Claus). As is typical for Bava, it has a great sense of style and imagery. The stories might not sound like much by themselves, but this visual flair and talent for the baroque shift the standard somewhere towards brilliance. I may be fairly new to Bava's work (again, shame on me) but it's not hard to see why Black Sabbath is the title with which his name is most associated.
While all of the tales are strong, The Wurdalak is the most sumptuous segment of Bava's horror chocolate orange. Frankenstein's Monster himself, the mighty Boris Karloff plays wurdalak vampire Gorcha, which spells almost certain doom for his family – the wurdalak being infamous for feeding primarily upon its loved ones. Karloff delivers a typically excellent performance, aided by a powerful moustache, mad hair and his deep, soulful eyes. Black Sabbath is a film full of terrifying imagery, from Karloff to the staring dead witch encountered by the nurse of The Drop of Water. It may seem cheesy in places, but for the most part, it's aged very well. Sabbath, bloody (good) Sabbath.
Video and Audio:
It looks and sounds fantastic. Bava's use of colour is masterful, and the Blu-Ray transfer shows it off perfectly.
A staggering three discs of extras. There are two versions of the film available – the European version (I tre volti della paura) with score by Roberto Nicolosi, and a re-edited and re-dubbed version with Les Baxer score. Which will you prefer? You'll have to watch them both to find out. Extras include an audio commentary, an introduction by critic and historian Alan Jones, an interview with star Mark Damon and a number of trailers. The featurette Twice the Fear then runs through a comparison of the different versions of the film. It's all very comprehensive, but lacking in the usual documentaries and interviews.