Black Sabbath (1963) – By Duane L. Martin

Ever seen Boris Karloff dubbed into Italian? Well, now’s your chance! Black Sabbath is a famous film. In fact, it’s a very famous classic, which is why I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t ever seen it until now.

Black Sabbath is an anthology film featuring three short horror stories, with an introduction and conclusion by Boris Karloff. The first, called The Telephone, involves a beautiful woman with a mysterious past that’s come back to haunt her. Oh, and yes…a telephone, which her tormenter uses to call her. Only, is it really who she thinks it is?

The second story is called The Wurdulak, and features Boris Karloff as a father who went out to hunt a mad Turk who had been killing people in the area and had everyone terrified. He did manage to kill the Turk, but he also got infected, which means he returned home as one of the ghouls know as the Wurdulak. His family, unsure if he’s been turned or not, brings him inside their home, and soon discovers the awful truth. Not only has he been turned, but he’s on a mission to turn the rest of them as well. Unfortunately, the family weren’t the only ones in the home. Count Vladimire d’Urfe had been passing through when he discovered the headless body of the Turk. He placed the body on the horse that had been standing next to it and rode it to the nearest farm he could find, and ended up staying there, as he quickly fell in love with one of the farmer’s daughters named Sdenka. Unfortunately, his love for her entangled him the problems of her family, and now only fate will decide if the two will be able to escape with their lives, or if they’ll fall prey to the curse of the Wurdulak.

The third story is called The Drop of Water. A nurse in the late 1800s or very early 1900s is called to the home of a once wealthy woman who, in life, had been obsessed with seances, talking to the dead and all things occult. The woman had passed away, and her house keeper, alone in the house now with a whole bunch of cats, called the nurse to their home one night in the midst of a rainstorm to prepare the body for burial, as she was too fragile emotionally to do it herself. When the nurse arrives, she finds the body laying in bed in a nightgown looking absolutely ghastly. She looked like she’d been dead for quite some time. As the nurse dressed her for burial, she noticed a very expensive ring on her finger, and unable to resist, she steals the ring and takes it home with her. Will that be the last mistake she ever makes?

To me, this film was similar in a lot of ways to the look and feel of the Roger Corman, Edgar Allan Poe films. If you’ve seen those, then you’ll have a general idea of what this film looks like and how it was made. This style of film is funny in a way, because somehow it manages to be both serious, and yet cheesy and fun at the same time.

Rather than going on some long winded writing binge, I think I’ll simply make a few comments about each story noting what was good and what could have been done better, if anything.

The Telephone: This one lacked back story. The girl apparently was a part of some criminal activity at some point in her past and sold out one of her partners, a man who ended up in jail, only to escape years later. They never tell you what it was all about though. What little back story we get was only given in vague terms, and we’re left to infer the rest. While I do think it would have made the story more clear as to why things were happening, I don’t necessarily believe that the inclusion of that back story would have made the film better. There’s something about the vagueness of it that actually makes it work better, in its own way. Now why she never used that telephone to call the police when the caller started tormenting her…I have no idea.

The Wurdulak: Of the three, this one was the "main feature" so to speak, and was longer than the other two. Boris Karloff was exactly how you’d expect him to be – creepy and ghoulish. The set design and lighting on this one really created a mood visually. There was a heavy atmosphere of despair that hung over every aspect of this story, and the set design, lighting and make up all conspired to create that heaviness. The only thing it was missing were appearances by Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre, who all would have simply added a whole other level of greatness to the story. Sadly, they were absent here, but if you want to see all four men together, make sure you check out Comedy of Terrors, which is one of my all time favorite films. As it is, the cast in this story does a wonderful job of conveying the darkness and despair that has engulfed their family. I do have to say though, when I watched Mark Damon playing Vladimir d’Urfe, I kept having this thought running through my head that he looked like someone had taken Burt Ward and Frankie Avalon and smushed them together. Yeah, I’m silly that way sometimes. In any case, this was a great story, and very creepy.

The Drop of Water: Speaking of creepy, this one was seriously creepy as well, and that’s almost entirely due to the mannequin they used for the dead body. As I stated above, the face on it looked absolutely ghastly, and there are scenes with it that will seriously give you a good case of the boo boo jeebies, which is what makes this type of a film so much fun. The set design was gorgeous, and the lighting really added to the heaviness of it. In these two areas, this story and The Wurdulak are very similar. I did feel like there was something missing a bit with the story on this one though. It’s called, The Drop of Water, and drops of water do in fact play a key role in the story, but it’s never really explained why. Mostly it seems as though it’s just for effect. I think the story could have had a more appropriate title that suited its content better, but that’s really nitpicking.

I guess my only complaint in the end is that The Telephone had such a different look and feel from the other two stories, that it felt like it didn’t really belong in the same film. The other two matched together perfectly, and while The Telephone is a decent story in its own right, I think they should have perhaps used a story that was more suited to the overall look and feel of the rest of the film. It’s not a huge issue though, and won’t take away from your enjoyment of the film as a whole.

I’m actually glad I hadn’t seen the film up to this point, as now that I have gotten to see it, I was able to experience in on a new blu-ray release from Kino Lorber that was mastered from the original 35mm negative of the uncut, international version of the film. While the only special features included in the release are trailers for other Mario Bava films, Kino has given Black Sabbath the quality of a release that it truly deserved. It looks great, sounds great and all in all, is a very entertaining experience. I simply can’t recommend it enough. If you’re a fan of these types of films, or just a fan of Boris Karloff, make sure you check this one out, and if you have seen it before…watch it again!

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the DVD or blu-ray releases from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.