The early 60s were incredibly important years for European horror movies because Mario Bava was revolutionizing the genre. While cranking out films, Bava practically invented the giallo and he had an incredibly unique style that has been mimicked by many. Every time I watch a Bava film for the first time, it is more like an experience because I know that I am in for some creative camerawork, use of color, and clever murder set pieces. Black Sabbath is Bava's crack at making an anthology and it ends up being more consistent than many. The fact that he cast Boris Karloff as the host certainly doesn't hurt.
The first story entitled "The Telephone" has many giallo elements that Eurohorror fans have come to expect. French actress Michele Mercier (who later achieved fame in the Angelique series of films) stars as Rosy, a woman who is terrorized by a series of phone calls from her former pimp who has escaped from prison and is out for revenge. Rosy calls a bitchy friend named Mary (Lydia Alfonsi) who agrees to stay with her. Although the whole story takes place in a single apartment, it is engaging and there are a number of twists in the short running time. A ticking clock keeps the suspense high as does the manner in which Bava holds many tight shots on Mercier's face allowing her sense of fear to fill the screen. I found this to be the weakest of the stories but it still sets the tone that is not just any horror anthology.
Next up is "The Wurdalak", a period piece starring Karloff as a father named Gorca who returns home to his family at a small cottage and may or may not be a member of the undead. This is paced well with legends being told before the arrival of Gorca eliciting a deep sense of unease and distrust. As the night progresses and he arrives, things start to go south for the family quickly. This tale features an unforgettable scene of a missing child coming home in the middle of the night asking to come in from the cold which plays on the emotions of the family members and cast a particularly eerie and downbeat mood on the proceedings. The action eventually moves to a set of ruins that reminded me a lot of the crypt from Black Sunday. Bava's cinematography and use of visual effects thrives in the outdoor scenes and the ruins making this a stylish and unsettling story.
The final tale is entitled "The Drop of Water" and is the most memorable of the three thanks mainly to the ghoulish smile that is plastered on the face of a the corpse of a recently departed old psychic. A nurse named Chester (Jacqueline Pierreux) is employed to get the body ready for burial when she spots a ring on the dead woman's hand and decides to take it for herself. No sooner does she get home that she realizes that this was a mistake and the ghost of the woman is back to claim what is hers. Similar to the clocks in the first story, this one has the sound of dripping water ratcheting up the tension (along with a pesky fly) increasing Chester's paranoia until the inevitable conclusion. The look on the dead woman's face (courtesy of Bava's father Eugenio) will haunt your mind for days.
Obviously, this film has a special place in the world of heavy metal as the mighty Black Sabbath took their name from it. Fans of the giallo subgenre will like the first story as they will get a chance to see Bava playing with the style he established in The Girl Who Knew Too Much and perfected in Blood and Black Lace. As with most Bava films, this is one that I will come back to again in the future to appreciate the cinematography and style and just what an amazing eye this guy had. It also has an ending that I really got a kick out of. It should be noted that there are a couple of versions of this film in existence with AIP making some changes for American audiences. The Italian version is the one I recommend. (Josh Pasnak, 11/24/18)
Directed By: Mario Bava.
Written By: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato.
Starring: Boris Karloff, Michelle Mercier, Jacqueline Pierreux, Mark Damon.
aka: The Three Faces of Fear.