Black Sabbath Review
Released in Italy as the Three faces of Fear, American International Pictures refashioned Mario Bava's follow up to Black Sunday as Black Sabbath, keen to cash in on the earlier movie's success. They also chose to flip the order of the stories in the film, remove the Lesbian elements of one and beef up the episode featuring Boris Karloff. The good people at Arrow have brought together both versions in a new dual format release, but for the purposes of brevity and a certain puritanical passion for the original version, the review of the film below follows the Italian order of the stories.Bava's classic portmanteau movie includes three tales which are book-ended by narration involving the film's star, Boris Karloff. The first tale, The Telephone, is a twisted tale where a young woman of dubious repute is harassed by phone calls purporting to be from her ex-lover, a criminal named Frank who has escaped from prison and knows it was her who shopped him. She turns for comfort to her obsessed and love-struck female friend and the tale takes some ironic twists and turns which ends badly for two of this seedy triangle. The Telephone is an early example of how Bava could use beautiful images and create a tension with the far from beautiful actions of those within them, a skill he would perfect in the following year's Blood and Black Lace. Bava keeps the tale taut and focuses on these three characters, creating a desperate atmosphere within the urban luxury of the lead's apartment. The second tale is The Wurdulak, with Karloff starring as a patriarch who returns to his family after destroying a creature of the night. His family start to notice his deathly pallor and the decimation of their members over the course of the night, and Sdenka the daughter elopes to be free of this bewitching. The binds of vampirism prove as strong as the ties of family. The Wurdulak is a wonderful literate horror which gave Karloff one of his last great roles and one which takes the idea of vampirism and applies it eerily to the kinship of family. With beautiful compositions and exceptional lighting this is a very unnerving piece with a dark cynical wit that Bava must have enjoyed greatly. It has exceptional moments such as when the dead infant child comes back to life pulling at his mother's heartstrings and banging at the family's closed door. The final story, A Drop of Water, is one of the best short horror films ever made. It is a constantly dark tale which hides menace in the shadows and worse still makes the menace meaningful as payback for the guilt of crimes against the dead. Jacqueline Pierreux is the nurse called to prepare a wealthy woman's corpse for the undertakers and takes advantage of the jewellery on show. What then follows is one of the best hauntings of conscience in cinema with everything from dripping taps and shadows deployed to bring comeuppance to the covetous nurse. The haunting is even one which may continue for the greedy living, and Bava is exceptional in his use of visual metaphors for guilt such as the bluebottle fly which dogs the nurse. The film ends with Karloff revealing the fact that the stories were simple invention and the mechanics of making a film are laid bare to re-assure the audience as the mechanical horse he rides and the men running around the camera with bits of bush are revealed by the pan out. Black Sabbath, in its Italian cut, has aged little and stands as one of the finest horror compendium films ever made. Along with Blood and Black Lace and the Whip and the Body, it also is as great a film as Bava directed.
Black Sabbath is offered as a three disc set in the now familiar Arrow package of dust sleeve, reversible cover art and booklet. The art and the booklet were not available for this review, so I am unable to comment upon them. The set is Region 2/B coded and the two DVDs are dual layer, accompanying the 90% used BD50. Extra features are scattered through all three discs.
Arrow held onto this release to give more time to the transfer and their efforts are worth it. Looking at the two cuts of the film offered here, there are distinct differences but the overall quality is similar see below for shots from the two versions:
And Italian version
Colour differences are obvious with the blue tint showing more clearly on the latter image and this is reflected throughout the transfers with truer colours and stronger contrast evident in the Italian version. One note of caution is that I did feel that as vibrant as this version looks, there are some moments where black levels seem overly boosted, and I would state that both cuts show minor edge enhancement. Still, for a Bava fan who has longed to see this great film in good health, this is a lovely transfer for both versions.
Sound options include LPCM tracks in English for AIP version and Italian for the original cut. Whilst Karloff speaking in Italian takes some getting used to, this was my preferred soundtrack but both are a huge upgrade on previous releases. The quality of the reproduction and the ability to lose yourself in the atmospherics on the Italian version - is Bava heaven. To my mind, these treatments are far better than other recent Bava blus.
Tim Lucas provides his usual authoritative commentary to the Italian version of the film as one of the two extras on the Blu-ray with an excellent HD comparison of the two versions of the film included as well.
Alan Jones pops up again with an introduction to the Italian version on the first DVD, revealing that the references to literary sources were in fact made up and the controversy surrounding the re-editing of the film. A fluent interview with Mark Damon explains how he was spotted by Groucho Marx and brought the idea of re-mounting the Poe stories to Corman, directing the Pit and The Pendulum himself. He also talks about producing Das Boot, Monster and the clusterf**k that was 8 Million ways to die.
The final DVD in the set includes the AIP cut with a standard definition reprise of the featurette on the two versions included here.
The quality of the HD sound and vision transported me back to the first time I saw Black Sabbath and that is a glorious achievement. Well done Arrow.
Here's an Arrow clip advertising the release