Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Three tales of terror directed by the master Mario Bava, presented by Boris Karloff - a treat for a certain kind of horror fan. Combining lurid plots with sharp little twists and some genuinely creepy moments, they may not have retained all their power to shock but they're still very enjoyable to watch.

First up is The Telephone, in which a beautiful woman receives threatening calls, does just about everything wrong in response, and finds herself caught up in a dangerous situation she scarcely understands. With diaphanous gowns, heaving bosoms, flashing eyes and shiny knives, this shamelessly draws in the audience for a denouement which then steps sideways to deliver a different kind of horror, but with no less punch.

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Next there's The Wurdulak. A pretty conventional vampire tale set in a remote East European castle and giving Boris Karloff a chance to do what he's known best for, this is the weakest stretch of the film, getting by on the strength of Bava's imagery. Nevertheless, it's sufficiently unselfconscious to possess a certain charm.

Finally there's The Drop Of Water, a morality tale about the foolishness of stealing from the dead with a plum role for the less glamorous but effortlessly charismatic Jacqueline Pierreux. Like the best classic horror, it's creepy enough to grip despite its cheesiness and the simple effects remain disturbing.

What elevates these tales is, of course, Bava's direction. The sets are brilliantly designed, full of character, vivid and theatrical, enabling him to pack a lot of action into a small space. Ubaldo Terzano's cinematography (abetted in places by the director's own) is sumptuous, filling everything with rich, glowing colour yet retaining the impact of contrasting light and shadow. Studied close-ups bring out the best in overblown yet affecting performances and every movement is choreographed like dance. There's scarcely a scene in this film that doesn't deserve to be a poster and in places it has a painterly quality the likes of Peter Greenaway could only dream of.

It's a shame that because of his fondness for fantastic tales with cheesy plots Bava's genius has largely gone overlooked by mainstream film fans. If you're not into horror but are tempted to try, these stories won't scare you too much. If you are, they might not surprise you much but you'll enjoy every minute.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2012
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Three tales of terror: a threatening phone call; an ancient evil; and a ghostly morality tale.
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Director: Mario Bava, Salvatore Billitteri

Writer: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Ivan Chekhov, Marcello Fondato, F.G. Snyder, Aleksei Tolstoy

Starring: Michèle Mercier, Lidia Alfonsi, Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi, Rika Dialina, Glauco Onorato, Jacqueline Pierreux, Milly

Year: 1963

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Italy, France, US


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