Review by Troy
= Highest Rating
Karloff serves as M.C. in this trilogy of ghoulish stories...
The Telephone deals with a high class call girl (luscious
Michele Mercier) who is being terrorized by phone calls from
her ex-pimp; The Wurdalak tells the tale of an elderly
farmer (Karloff) who returns home from a trip, having been turned
into a vampire; and A Drop of Water is about a nurse
(Jacqueline Soussard) who steals a dead woman's ring and soon
comes to regret it.
One of the most distinctive
and individualistic artists ever to work primarily in the horror
genre, Mario Bava is beloved for his baroque style and mastery
of varying genres. With his sly sense of humor and irony, an
undeniable mastery of mood and atmosphere, and the ability to
make high quality cinema with very little at his disposal, Bava
forged a body of work that can rightly be called unique. This
was a filmmaker who not only guided the actors through the motions
and told the camera operator where to point the camera — he
was a brilliant cinematographer and special effects artist who
oversaw nearly every facet of production and stamped an unmistakable
personality on every film he directed, be the end result good,
bad or indifferent.
Sabbath (I Tre Volti Della Paura, "The Three
Faces Of Fear") is one of his most beloved films and came
during a period of ferocious creativity for the director. Sandwiched
between the equally well regarded Whip
and the Body (1963) and Blood and
Black Lace (1964), it also helped rekindle an interest
in anthology-based horror films; the following year saw the
production of Amicus Films' first omnibus Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors.
The film offers an insight into Bava's complete mastery of the
genre as he serves up three tales that touch on the major subgenres.
The first tale is an early example of the giallo, a variety
of murder mystery Bava had helped to define, cinematically,
in the previous year's Girl Who Knew Too
Much. Originally altered by U.S. distributor American
International Pictures (AIP) so as to remove the 'adult' content
(prostitution, lesbianism, etc.) and replace it with a nonsensical
supernatural theme, in its original form (preserved on this
DVD) it plays as a compelling, somewhat sleazy and defiantly
downbeat opening act that sets the stage for the director's
Story number two
is more traditional, being a period-set vampire tale that harkens
back to Bava's debut success, Black
Sunday (1960). In it, Karloff gives one of his best latter-day
performances as the creepy but oddly sympathetic vampire doomed
to drink the blood of those he loves the best. The stagebound
atmospherics, colored gel lighting and keen use of sound make
up for some lulls in the story.
Best of all is the
last segment, set somewhere in between the modern first story
and the "once upon a time" second act. Compact and legitimately
scary, it reflects the director's interest in Russian literature
in its tale of a woman who becomes a victim to her guilty conscience.
Almost bereft of dialogue, it's a fantastic example of visual
storytelling that builds to a finale that has haunted many viewers
for forty years.
Clearly the work
of a gifted artist at the peak of his powers, Black
Sabbath is a classic of its kind and is sure to appeal
to horror fans, whether they're into 'Euro-Cult' or not.
DVD release, one of the first in their admirable Mario Bava
Collection, is a stunner. Taken from a terrific source print,
it finally presents Bava's European cut in its entirety. AIP originally
altered the film substantially, rearranging the stories, censoring
some shots, inserting some linking segments with Karloff (shot
by Bava), replacing Roberto Nicolosi's subtle soundtrack with
a bombastic score by Les Baxter, and generally diluting the impact.
This cut plays substantially better, although there is a small
caveat: it is presented in Italian only with English subtitles,
which means Karloff's distinctive voice is lost. Nonetheless,
this is the only way to see Bava's original cut —
the changes made to the U.S. cut would make it virtually impossible
to wed the American soundtrack to the Italian image. While it
would have been nice to have the U.S. edition included as an extra,
the rights to it are owned by MGM and the licensing costs would
have been prohibitive. The image is sharp and very colorful, preserving
Bava's surreal color palette, and has been correctly framed at
1.78:1 (enhanced for widescreen TVs). There is some minor damage
around reel changes, but nothing distracting. Audio quality is
solid and distortion-free. The English subs (which are removable)
are confined, for the most part, to the bottom matte, and are
in easy-to-read yellow type. Extras include the usual Bava
Collection bio and filmography from Tim Lucas, who also contributes
some insightful liner notes, and the rarely seen Italian trailer
it, too, is letterboxed and looks pretty good. 6/22/04
The R1 Image DVD reviewed here went OOP in 2005. A new edition
of Black Sabbath will be issued by
Anchor Bay in April 2007, as part of the 5-disc Mario
Bava Collection, Vol. 1.