Black Sabbath (I tre volti della paura) (1963)

black-sabbathBoris Karloff is deliciously spooky as the narrator who unfolds a trio of stories in Mario Bava’s immortal “Black Sabbath*.” Each tale involves people whose demons come back to haunt them in one way or another. Mario Bava is excellent in depicting various shades of terror, devoting bold and stark palettes of colors to each segment that add to the EC Comics vibe that Bava inadvertently conveys. “The Drop of Water” is the best and arguably most iconic of segment in horror movie anthologies, involving the classic comeuppance of a grave robber. In the early 1900’s, nurse Chester is called to a large house once owned by an elderly woman who was also a medium. After the elderly woman dies while seemingly in a trance, Nurse Chester arrives to discover the gruesome visage of the woman and helps to dress up her corpse alongside her incredibly terrified house maid.

Allowing greed to get the better of her, Nurse Chester steals a sapphire ring from the corpse, and accidentally tips off a glass of water. Soon enough the dripping of the water becomes something of a manifestation of her guilt. When Chester arrives home wearing the ring, she realizes she’s either being haunted by the medium, or her guilt is scaring her to death. “The Drop of Water” is a brutally scary story with excellent editing a wonderful tribute to classic folklore where the harrowing tale is also a means of expressing a stern moral about theft. “The Telephone” is admittedly the weakest of the three stories involving a beautiful French call girl named Rosy, as played by Michèle Mercier who is being taunted by the calls of a stranger who seems to know every movement she makes in her apartment.

The segment works in the realm of paranoia with Mercier doing everything she can to uncover what the calls mean, and who is making them. And in the tradition of classic crime comics, the climax offers a neat twist, if a somewhat weak closing scene. The finale “The Wurdalak” is set in 19th Century Russia and stars narrator Boris Karloff as Gorca, a hunter who has spent many days hunting down a wurdurlak. A wurdurlak is a vile walking corpse that exists only to feed on blood, particularly the blood of their friends and family. When nobleman Vladimir seeks shelter with a family in a local cottage, he learns that Gorca is the patriarch of the family and has warned that if he’s not back after five days, he’ll likely either be dead or turned in to a wurdurlak. Despite his prior insistence, Gorka shows up cold, pale, and quite embittered demanding to be let in.

His family submits and before long Vladimir realizes Gorca is lurking in the darkness slowly murdering his family and turning them in to his own army of wurdurlak. The closing segment presents something of a perverse undertone where Gorca is no longer much of a noble leader, but a monster who delights in fondling his family, particularly his very young grand son who he hungrily hugs and clings to at various moments. The atmosphere mixed with the amazing set pieces make “The Wurdurlak” a very memorable horror tale that offers a unique take on the vampire. Director Mario Bava doesn’t just rely on a steady delivery of scary with “Black Sabbath,” but he’s also very devoted to delivering very unsettling and uncomfortable moments in what is one of the richest horror anthologies ever made.

* This a review of the AIP cut.