The Film (5/5)
Boris Karloff introduces each of the three segments in humorous vignettes. The first story, The Drop Of Water, a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) who is called upon to dress the corpse of a recently deceased spirit medium who died while in a trance. Noticing a sapphire ring on her finger the nurse steals it, which leads to terrifying retribution from the medium. This segment is often called a masterpiece and I can't disagree with that considering it's among the finest 10 -12 minutes that horror cinema has to offer.
In the second story, The Telephone, a young woman (Michelle Mercier) is haunted by the ghost of her lover Frank, leading to her reunion with another lover, Mary. The haunting doesn't really make sense and that is because AIP required that Bava change the story from one of murderous passion to that of a supernatural flavor. In any event Bava pretty much invents the giallo here a year before The Girl Who Knew Too Much. The Telephone is beautifully shot nonetheless, however much more sense is made of it in the Italian version. All hints of lesbianism or of Rosie's prostitution are scrubbed, a newspaper clipping becomes a ghostly note, written before our eyes and motivations are completely changed. This was understandable as from a commercial standpoint, AIP's films were seen by kids and what better way to screw up the flow of your spooky movie then with a non supernatural story about a pair of lesbians and the man that one of them put in prison, smack dab in the middle of it?
Our closing story, The Wurdalak concerns a young nobleman, Vladimir Durfe (Mark Damon) who discovers a headless body with a knife sticking out of it's heart. He moves on to find a house where he takes shelter and finds that the blade belongs to Gorka (Boris Karloff) who five days previously had gone out to kill a bandit that was marauding the countryside. Gorka had warned his family that if he didn't return within five days, he would have become a Wurdalak (which is basically a vampire that primarily kills their own loved ones.) Gorka comes home after his self imposed deadline and guess what? He's a Wurdalak. I think we can safely say we all saw this coming. His family takes him in anyway and before long Gorka is taking out family members while Durfe is trying to convince the beautiful Sdenka (Susy Andersen) that they need to leave.
Black Sabbath is AIP's retitling and re-sequencing of Bava's Italian film entitled I Tre Volti Della Paura (The Three Faces Of Fear.) Truly, both films are Bava's as he made several changes and additions while still filming, per AIP's requests as American horror film audiences and European horror film audiences were two different sets of demographics. Black Sabbath was the version that English speaking fans fell in love with and also the inspiration for a certain English hard rock/metal band. Bava's early films like this and Black Sunday were great Italian companion pieces to AIP's Corman Poe Cycle and Hammer Films' gothic chillers. In the annals of horror filmmaking, I don't think Black Sabbath's influence can be overstated.
For all the stylish scariness of The Drop Of Water and The Telephone's giallorificness, The Wurdalak is my favorite of the three. Karloff gives a masterful performance, all menace and wild, bushy eyebrows and there are several truly haunting moments. The gel lighting is ablaze everywhere onscreen and Bava and co. really build an atmosphere full of dread, one that can lead to only one conclusion. When you take the three stories together and add in Karloff's playful introductions, you really have a masterpiece of horror filmmaking, a true classic.
Kino presents Black Sabbath in a 1080p HD transfer, licensed from MGM (as is Arrow's) in it's correct 1:85:1 aspect ratio. Colors are very nice, there's a healthy grain structure and there's only a spot or two of image softness. There's a very small section of slight print damage in the Wurdalak segment but as it also appears on the Arrow disc, it's an issue with the MGM print. To these eyes the Arrow disc is ever so slightly clearer but the two are very comparable and the Kino disc is an upgrade over their previous release of the Italian language cut.
Audio is presented in a DTS HD Master Audio track that sounded crisp and both dialogue and soundtrack both came through well. No subtitles.
Kino includes trailers for Black Sabbath and The Crimson Cult. Also included is a new audio commentary from Bava biographer Tim Lucas. The commentary is everything we've come to expect from Mr. Lucas, packed with information on the filming, cast and crew, and trivia surrounding the film, including differences between the Italian and AIP versions. Lucas' film commentaries are indispensable and this is one of his best. Make sure to hang around to the very end as he goes out with a bang. (Two trailers don't make a 4/5, but the addition of a Tim Lucas commentary does. It's that informative and entertaining.)
The best horror film anthology? I think so. It's very nice indeed to own a domestic copy of the AIP version on bluray as this is how I first saw Black Sabbath years ago. While I prefer the Italian language version, it is missing an important ingredient: the voice of Boris Karloff, which is of course found here. This version seems to clean up the color issues that were present in Kino's previous Italian language bluray and while I think the Arrow edges it just a bit, Kino's is very comparable and the Tim Lucas commentary makes it a must own for obsessive fans of Bava, Italian Horror, and just plain old horror in general, such as myself.