Black Sabbath [VHS]
- Amazon Sales Rank: #33638 in VHS
- Released on: 1998-07-28
- Rating: Unrated
- Formats: Color, NTSC
- Number of tapes: 1
- Running time: 96 minutes
When American audiences first saw Mario Bava's 1963 horror trilogy, it wasn't the same film he had made in Italy. Finding it too terrifying for kids (imagine that!), AIP pictures trimmed it of violence and intensity, rescored it, and renamed it in order to cash in on the success of Black Sunday. New tongue-in-cheek introductions with costar Boris Karloff were added, the segments were rearranged, and one segment was completely rewritten in the dubbing. It was a good film even in its butchered form, but the original Italian version is excellent. The correctly ordered stories begin with "The Telephone," a gripping, ornate thriller that anticipates Bava's later "giallo" horror classics such as Blood and Black Lace. (In the American version, lesbian overtones were removed and the escaped criminal killer was turned into a vengeful ghost.) Karloff stars as a demonic, wild-haired patriarch in the eerie "The Wurdulak," a gorgeous vampire tale shot on misty, menacing sets. The masterpiece of the collection is "The Drop of Water," a chilling ghost story with shiver inducing imagery: the piercing dead eyes of the restless corpse will haunt you long after the film is over. Bava's original framing sequence ends with a playful tribute to the magic of moviemaking and storytelling, a sweet coda to remind us that it's only a movie.
The print suffers slightly from wear and tear and water damage but the colors are sharp and vivid. It's a bit disconcerting to hear Karloff dubbed in Italian, but that's a small price to pay for seeing the film in its original, uncut form. The DVD also features an extensive gallery of production and promotional stills, biographies, and liner notes by Bava historian Tim Lucas. --Sean Axmaker
A terrifying vampire tale
Black Sabbath is one of those movies that made a horrifyingly-indelible impression on me when I first saw it. In "The Drop of Water", I can still see the contorted visage of the dead spiritualist as she fixes her malevolent stare on the woman who has robbed her in death. "The Telephone" was the weakest of the trio. But the third segment--The Wurdalak--gave me insomnia for days. As a lover of the vampire genre, I was struck by the twist in the old legend: a Wurdalak returns from the dead to attack those whom he loved best on earth. Boris Karloff plays the title character, a paterfamilias who sets out to destroy a local bandit-turned-Wurdalak. If he has not returned in exactly three days, the family will know that he has been victimized, and must be destroyed. Of course, he returns just after the three day mark. The sheer horror comes from the fact that the family knows the truth, but can't admit it. The scene of Karloff cuddling and stroking his young grandson is enough to make you want to call Child Protective Services! Really good stuff, and a clarion call to those who insist that one needs massive special effects or blatan, on-screen gore to succeed. Kudos!
This is NOT the American Version
Buyers be forewarned. Unlike the "also from" Anchor Bay trailers showing the American AIP version of "Black Sabbath", what is on the disc is NOT that version. Instead this is the European Italian language version with subtitles and even Karloff's voice is dubbed in Italian. Their advertising is very misleading for the unaware.
Due to some sort of contractual differences with AIP, this is all that is currently available to the public.
The Scariest Day of the Week!
One of the best Italian horror films ever made, director Mario Bava's 1963 movie BLACK SABBATH (Italian title: I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA) is actually a delicious trilogy of stories, each different in timbre and texture, but each a masterful atmospheric study in unmitigated fear.
In the first short, entitled "The Telephone," a contemporary (circa 1960s) woman is taunted by a series of bizarre and alarming phone calls. But things get really interesting when she learns who it is that's been calling. (Warning: Some viewers may be put off by the lesbian subtext of this story.)
"The Wurdalak," the second entry, is an eerie variation on the vampire legend that is based on the Aleksei Tolstoy novella THE FAMILY OF THE VOURDALAK (SEM'YA VURDALAKA). The action takes place in what appears to be medieval Europe, and the celebrated Boris Karloff (alas, with his dialogue dubbed in Italian) turns in an excellent performance as Gorca, the patriarch of a peasant family. When Gorca returns from assisting in the pursuit and destruction of a Wurdalak--a vampire of sorts that is compelled to feast only upon its own loved ones--his family suspects that he's not quite the man he used to be....
Purportedly an adaptation of story by Chekhov, "A Drop of Water" is the last entry of the trilogy, and it is unquestionably the creepiest. Set in a Victorian manor house, it involves a private nurse who steals a ring from her recently deceased charge and is subsequently haunted by the vengeful corpse. Or is she?
The acting is good, the sets are sufficiently eerie, the stories are well written and creepy, and the women are pretty. But first and foremost, BLACK SABBATH is a superior horror film due to Bava's great vision and direction. He knows what it takes to scare people, and it is his use of stark yet simple imagery, unusual juxtaposition of sounds, and sometimes tenebrous lighting that generates genuine goose bumps and psychological jitters. (Your skin will crawl every time you remember the image of that corpse with the empty, unblinking stare from "A Drop of Water.")
Extant copies of the film are in one of two forms. One presents the film as originally intended (and released in Europe) by the filmmakers. The dialogue is completely dubbed in Italian (with English subtitles available), the stories have not been edited by anyone other than the director and his crew, and the three stories as a whole are vignetted by a Boris Karloff preface and epilogue. However, the other version presents the film after it was vitiated by its U.S. distributor, American International Pictures. In that one, the stories have been edited (one to the point of being unintelligible) and their relative order rearranged, and inappropriately witty intros (featuring Karloff) have been tacked on to each. Also, an English soundtrack has been added, one that was not created with any input from Bava or the original scriptwriters.
Until recently, the AIP re-dubbed re-cut was the only version of the film readily available to American audiences. Though not a totally un-watchable film in AIP's butchered format, it is simply not the masterpiece that Bava's original is. With that in mind, it is recommended that, if at all possible, viewers avoid the AIP version altogether and watch only the original Italian version. And please note, then, that this review refers to that original release--with English subtitles--which IS the version now being offered on the Image Entertainment DVD.
And speaking of the DVD, it is a bit short on true bonus features, and it is possible to see some signs of wear on the print that was used. Still, this widescreen digital transfer looks good overall, with rich and vivid colors and crisp focus. Most importantly, it is fantastic opportunity for American horror fans to finally see--and own!--this excellent scary film in the form in which its creators intended.