Black Sabbath (1963)

Boris Karloff hosts a trio of three horror tales. These stories are about a stalked woman over the telephone, a vampire like monster that goes after his family, and nurse that steals a ring and is haunted by its previous owner.

Director: Mario Bava

Cast: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michele Mercier, Lidia Alfonsi, Jacqueline Pierreux, Susy Andersen


Runtime: 1hr 37min

Fun Fact: Heavy metal band Black Sabbath were inspired to use the name after hearing about the film.

As you can probably tell I’m a lover of classic horror films. I also enjoy international films as well. To round it all off I also have an interest in films that have different short stories to them. Check off all three and you get the film Black Sabbath, a feature from legendary horror director Mario Bava and from Italy. There is an Italian version and an American version. The American version has a different segment order and some edits to them as well. For this review I watched the Italian version as that is the one that I own on DVD. Legendary horror actor Boris Karloff is the host in both versions, and he also has a part in the film as well.

We kick off with the first segment The Telephone. Michele Mercer portrays Rosy, a call girl that has just testified against her former pimp Frank. Frank has escaped prison and is constantly calling Rosy and taunting her and wanting revenge. Rosy is in dire straights and calls a friend for help, but that friend might have different intentions of her own. This segment is very effective on tension building. Some of the best moments are the moment of silence and you get an eerie feeling through it. Most of the segment is shot in one area and for a lower budget feature it works. For a story like this you don’t need to be in multiple places. It has a twist to it that worked for the time the movie was released as well. This segment goes second in the American version.

The second segment and my favorite of the three is The Wurdulak. Vladimir (Mark Damon) is traveling and stops at a cottage for the night. He comes across a family who tells him that their father (Boris Karloff) has been gone for five days hunting a wurdulak, a vampire creature and he has to make it back by midnight or he may himself become one. This is the longest of the segments and where most of the budget goes to. The scenery gives us a chilling environment with a feeling of something bad is going to happen. Once again Boris Karloff is fantastic in his role. All I’m going to say is that he plays a very convincing character and has the look of something frightening as well. Another plus side to it is that the costumes and set pieces look good for the time period that the segment is taking place. The minor gripe I have with this one is that there is a progression between two characters that goes really fast and would have fit if they branched out the story to a few days and instead of a couple of hours. This segment goes last in the American version.

The final segment is The Drop of Water. In this segment a nurse by the name of Helen (Jacqueline Pierreux) is preparing a medium’s corpse for burial. Helen ends up stealing her ring and strange things start to happen. To me this segment was running on fumes. While it’s not a bad segment it just feels a rehash from The Telephone. We are back to being in one area and a bunch of frightening things happening to one character. The corpse looked good for the budget they had, and the performances are solid, but there is just something off with this one for me. Maybe if they just changed it up a bit and not make it like the other segment it would’ve have worked a bit better for me. This segment goes first in the American version.

Overall, Black Sabbath is a unique film. While it’s broken into segments it has a bit of everything for horror fans. Due to it being a lower budgeted film it relies on its atmosphere which is effective. Boris Karloff was doing more international features towards the end of his career/life, and this was the best of them. He is a great host and the role in his segment is one of the better later performances he had done. To me the best segment is The Wurdulak as it is well shot and have a genuine creepy atmosphere to it. Plus, we get a good old fashioned monster story that I love to see. The other segments have their moments as well and while I’m not the biggest fan of the last one the important thing is that they’re not boring and have something going on in them. Watching this version makes me want to watch the American version and compare the two. Have you seen any or both of them and if so, what did you think? That is a conversation that I would like to have at some point.

Verdict: Hit


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