Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horror Thoughts ‘14—Black Sabbath (1963) ***

UR, 92 min.
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato, Anton Chekov (story “The Drop of Water”), F.G. Snyder (story “The Telephone”), Aleksei Tolstoy (novelette “Sem’ya vurdalaka”)
Starring: Boris Karloff, Jacqueline Pierreux, Milly Monti, Michèle Mercier, Lydia Alfonsi, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi, Rica Dialina, Glauco Onorato

The anthology format is one that seems to fit horror better than any other genre. I was quite surprised to find that Italian maestro Mario Bava had directed an entire anthology film. Filmed after Bava had moved into the color film format, it’s a good place to see the roots of the Italian horror movement’s signature look where lighting gels are used heavily to influence the atmosphere and moods of the most tense horror sequences.

Hosted by Boris Karloff, the movie tells three tales from short story sources. Almost as surprising as seeing Boris Karloff in a hosting role is learning that one of the tales is based on a short story by Anton Chekov and another is taken from a novelette by Aleksei Tolstoy. After seeing the movie, I’d be very interested in reading some horror by either of these literary masters.

Chekov’s “The Drop of Water” leads off the trilogy and is probably the best of the bunch. It tells a fairly simple story of a mortician who is called in to prep an old fortuneteller after her death. She is warned not to touch anything belonging to the psychic or a curse will befall her. It’s no surprise then to find the mortician can’t resist a ring worn by the woman. When the mortician arrives back home she begins to hear water drips everywhere in her apartment. At first they are all explained by physical means—a faucet drips, raindrops dripping off her umbrella, rain coming in through an open window. The reason this one is so successful, however, is the perfect direction by Bava, who creates such a creepy vibe throughout that it makes for the perfect Halloween creep out.

The middle piece “The Telephone” is a good suspense thriller that follows a woman who is tormented by a series of phone calls from a man who appears to be watching her every movement. It’s a good example of Bava’s obsession with beautiful women and placing them into situations of vulnerability.

The final film goes full Russian gothic with Tolstoy’s story of The Wurdalak, a vampire that feeds off loved ones. It’s satisfying to learn that Karloff sheds his host role here to perform a major role in this story. The idea behind how these bloodsuckers return home to attack those they love is so similar to some of the ideas in Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro’s “The Strain” that I figure it must have influenced these current horror creators. Again Bava’s command of light and mood molds this tale into a perfect Halloween treat. I was so impressed by Bava’s work on these rather simple horror tales that I decided to dedicate most of the remainder of this year’s Horrorfest to the rather extensive collection of Bava films found on Netflix.

Watch the entire Italian version of the film below with English subtitles.

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