Oct 8, 2014

October 2014 Horror Movie a Day - Day 7: BLACK SABBATH (1963 - Italy, 1964 - USA)

Note: The version I viewed (via Netflix streaming) had the stories in a different order than they were originally presented.  From what I understand, the 1st story I talk about, 'A Drop of Water' originally played as the last one with the 2nd and 3rd as 1 and 2.  Now that I know this it makes complete sense because as you are about to see, I felt the first (which is really the last) was the strongest. Doing some reading, it seems that American International Pictures altered the order for American audiences as well as edited some subtext out of the story 'The Telephone', which is a pity.  I must now find the original version which I believe is on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Kino Lorber. So be warned that if you watch the Netflix version, it is the altered American cut.

If you read any of the entries for director Mario Bava films in the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide, you'll notice that the word "atmospheric" is used in almost every one.  Atmospheric is a good word to apply to this movie that has such a unique and striking look that's hard not to be entranced by.

Vampires want YOUR Blood!

You can't go wrong with a movie that begins with the disembodied head of Boris Karloff warning you that there may be vampires sitting behind you in the theater - and he even goes so far as to point one out in "the audience".  Thus begins Black Sabbath, an anthology horror picture that features three horror stories introduced by Karloff in some very imaginative (and ingeniously staged) ways.

You really want to put your fingers there?

As mentioned above Bava originally ended the picture with this story, but this version starts us off with a very straight forward and scary story entitled 'A Drop of Water' about a nurse who makes an ill-fated decision with the corpse of one of her patients, a medium who died during a seance.  Right there, is this something that you want to be meddling with - I mean she died DURING A SEANCE! The corpse is truly creepy looking - even for a corpse.  The woman's eyes are wide open, and her teeth are in a permanent gritted grin.  Her skin looks as though the decomposition has been happening for years while the woman was still alive.  This is a corpse that will give you nightmares - or worse - for years to come. Bava ingeniously utilizes water to set up the scares.  Who knew dripping faucets and a house fly could heighten tension so effectively.  This was my favorite of the three tales and according to reports, the least altered of the three stories (except for its placement) by the American Distributor.  There is also a great moment that hints that this tale of horror may carry over onto someone else, but the movie is clever in that it only hints at it through looks and a line of dialogue rather than hit us over the head with the information. 

Could be worse...could be Comcast customer service. I'll take a life-threatening voice from the dead over that any day.

The 'second' tale is introduced again by Karloff who stands in the background of what appears to be a forced perspective phone ringing.  A giant hand then picks up the phone and startles him - and us. It should startle him, it's his hand!

A telephone is the main source of horror in the second tale aptly named 'The Telephone' as a woman is terrorized over one by a voice from her past.  The voice announces himself to be someone that can not only see every move she makes, but he's also a dead man who she once betrayed. The woman (is gorgeous) and calls up a friend who I find out in the Italian version, may also be a former lover and the voice from the past, in this just a former lover who did some unmentioned wrong that he was turned in for, was originally a pimp.  I really need to see the unaltered version because this story felt weak to me, and those racy additions may alter my reaction to it.

 They call this decorating style the 'Game of Thrones' look.

The 'final' tale cashes in on Karloff's promise of vampires and he also stars in the segment entitled 'The Wurdalak'.  A traveler has come across a decapitated corpse and retreats to a nearby home with a knife that he found in the dead man's back that also happens to be property of the home's owner.  The house is all on edge, awaiting the arrival of the owner who went off to kill a creature (the Wurdalak) that feeds off the blood of humans. He comes back alright, but something isn't right about his appearance.  He appears drained of blood and has a far off look in his eyes.  One-by-one the inhabitants of the house fall prey to the evil he brought back with him, and the visiting stranger tries to make a run for it with a very buxom blonde (Bava sure knew how to cast his woman let me tell you).

You think they'll mind us looking at them like this?

I enjoyed this film immensely even in this altered version (which I had no idea it was altered until after the fact so that helped), so now I am very excited that I get the opportunity to revisit it in its original form ( is now up on another tab with the Blu-ray sitting in my cart).

 Why is my face suddenly purple?

The use of color in this film is extraordinary.  Bava uses sharp, brilliant colors to highlight areas on the screen, but none of them seem to overlap.  For instance, a character can be walking completely bathed in a red light, then suddenly come into close up in a purple light.  The 'exteriors' shot on an interior stage are obvious, but that also enhances the look of the film as this is a very stylized movie.  Even altered, the HD transfer on Netflix was outstanding.  This is a movie that screams to be seen on the big screen or on Blu-ray Disc.

This was his reaction when he found out the cut he saw had been altered.  Save your rage for Twitter.

Yes the discovery that the version I watched was not the original one did put me off somewhat.  The exciting thing is that I now have the chance to 'rediscover' this film in its original form as it will take an honored place on my Blu-ray shelf.