Monday, October 15, 2012

REVIEW: Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath
Director: Mario Bava
Year 1963
Black Sabbath is a compellingly creepy horror anthology directed by the master of the macabre, Mario Bava. Split up into three frightful stories, The Telephone, The Wurdalak, and The Drop of Water, this trio of gothic tales each bring their own unique flavor, making this anthology a devilishly diverse collection of atmospheric narratives that literally chill the bones. Hosted by the legendary character actor Boris Karloff, Black Sabbath is without a doubt one of the most accomplished assortment of haunting stories and it’s an ideal watch on a cold October night.
The anthology starts out with the segment, The Telephone, which depicts a young beautiful woman who is receiving frightening phone calls that slowly begin to send her into a maddening fit of paranoia and mistrust. The second entry, entitled The Wurdalak, is a dark tale about a Russian man who stumbles onto a family who is plagued by vampire like creature that stalks the night. The third and last entry of the anthology, The Drop of Water, follows a nurse who steals an intriguing ring from the hands of one of her deceased patients, only to be relentlessly haunted by the old woman’s apparition until it drives her to a fatal end. Each morbid tale is beautifully shot and expertly crafted, resulting in an assortment of sinister accounts that really showcase Bava’s skills as a director and storyteller.

The Telephone stars Michele Merceir as Rosy and Lidia Alfonsi as Mary, two beautiful and mesmerizing actresses who find themselves in a waking nightmare courtesy of Mario Bava. Merceir’s Rosy is the focus of the story, as it fixates on her every action after receiving that fateful telephone call that changes her life. The paranoia that Michele is able to muster up in the short time span that her segment runs is astounding and she looks absolutely stunning as the innocent woman plagued by a mysterious caller. Alfonsi also looks wonderful in her role, but her character has a sinister air to her that Lidia is able to pull off with miraculous results.
Like most of Mario Bava’s work, The Telephone has a tremendous atmosphere, but what is most unique about this entry is that the look of the short story is natural and much more subdued than what the master of Italian horror usual puts out. Instead of brash colors and stylized compositions, Bava uses the pacing of his camera movements and long takes to build up the tension. What results is a claustrophobic tale that really uses its small timeframe efficiently by cramming as much foreboding quality into the production as physically possible. The Telephone is an interesting gem that starts out this anthology on a very high note.

The Wurdalak stars Mark Damon as Vladimire d’Urfe, Susy Andersen as Sdenka, Massimo Righi as Pietro, Rika Dialina as Maria, Glauco Onorato as Giorgio, and the legendary Boris Karloff as Gorca. In this segment, Damon takes on the main character of the story as he portrays a Russian count who wanders into the most bizarre of tales. Mark plays the role of the inquisitive and curious Vladimire with a great deal of sympathy, and the lengths that he goes to in order to save the members of the plagued family in this story, is quite noble and ultimately tragic. The real shining star of this tale is Karloff as the intimidating Gorca. Straddling the thin line between friend and foe, the compromised character is the stark depiction of the fabled Wurdalak, a vampiric creature who was once a person but now feeds on his loved ones to survive. Karloff is absolutely creepy as the nightstalker and his screen presence in this entry is almost too much to bear.
In Bava’s traditional style, this entry is steep in the director’s iconic imagery and immaculate cinematography, which is credited in this film by the accomplished and frequent Bava collaborator, Ubaldo Terzano. The gothic nature of this segment is uncanny as it barrages the audience with a heavy dose of foggy atmosphere and somber lighting that sets the tone of the story off with a morbid sensibility that captures you right from the start. The visuals work wonders with the fairy tale quality of the narrative, and it adds an extra layer of depth to the fable that strikes a haunting accord to those that love their fictional retellings thick with impenetrable atmosphere. With a visual palette of cool hues and subdued melancholy tones, The Wurdalak is a subtle introduction into the color blasted third story, The Drop of Water, which takes Mario Bava’s impressionable style to the max.

The Drop of Water, the final entry in Bava’s heralded anthology, stars Jacqueline Pierreux as Helen Chester, Milly Monti as The Maid, and a fabricated corpse that will literally give you nightmares. Pierreux takes center stage in this segment as she, for the most part, is the main player of the piece. Jacqueline does a stupendous job as the unfortunate woman who suddenly begins to be haunted by the deceased patient that she greedily robbed from. The fright in her eyes and the slow decent into madness that she portrays is just disturbing to see play out, and you almost feel sorry for this poor woman even though she did something rather despicable to get into this situation. I really have to commend Pierreux for her performance, because she really is the driving force behind this story, working only against the surreal backdrop of Ubaldo Terzano and Mario Bava’s most excellent and hypnotic cinematography.
Lambasted in a vibrant hue of rainbow colors, The Drop of Water is a feast for the eyes. Played out in a strobe like manner, the unsettling rhythm of this piece is enough to incur madness onto the viewer and the way that Bava dips from darkness into light is a surreal mechanic that truly imbues a dream like quality. Lost in a nightmare of guilt and fright, Jacqueline Pierreux’s Helen Chester is awash in a sea of colors and horrific hallucinatory images that only Mario Bava could dream up. I was amazed by the impeccable timing and pacing that Bava was able to conjure for this entry, and his use of the decrepitly depicted corpse and its creepy appearances throughout the main character’s apartment is some of the most fear-provoking of moments to ever grace horror cinema. Not only that but Bava masterfully uses the sound of dropping water to drive his main character mad in the most unusual but effective of ways. With its psychedelic visuals and unsettling nature, The Drop of Water is a perfect bookend to an outstanding anthology.

Black Sabbath is an achievement of momentous proportions as it slowly builds from story to story, to end on the most shocking and disturbing of notes. Knee deep in Mario Bava’s signature style and played out in the most classical of ways, this anthology is one for the record books. The combined breadth of the cast is unparalleled, and the quality performances that come out of this omnibus of talent are often at times magnificent and essentially magical. From the simplicity of the first tale, The Telephone, all the way to the last thematically rich entry, The Drop of Water, this collection of tremendously succinct tales is a paradise of genre concepts.
Not only is the content of these three tales at such rich levels, but the quality in which they are presented is of the utmost, beautifully rendered. As with The Telephone, Bava tones down his style for a more intimate portrayal of a woman descending into madness, but then slowly sets into motion an avalanche of vibrant atmosphere as the rest of the stories begin to unfold. It is this gradual build up that I believe really lends to the otherworldly flow of the film. The progression charges the tone of these collections of work as it rises to its epic climax, filled with super realized color schemes and supernatural and surreal induced imagery that is nothing less than spectacular. If you are at all curious about Mario Bava’s work and you’re looking to take on some of his most accomplished efforts, then look no further than Black Sabbath. Within this anthology of morbid tales you’ll find some of the director’s best creations, while at the same time getting a first hand look at all that this legendary filmmaker has to offer. I can think of nothing more fitting to watch during the Halloween season and I beg anyone that hasn’t checked out this devilish collection of intriguing tales to do so immediately. You’ll be happy that you did. Black Sabbath is…..

Peek a boo you fucks you!

Don't answer the phone!

Sleeping Beauty is a bed hog.

Let me give you a massage..... a DEADLY massage!

Mark Damon doing his best Bilbo Baggins. STING!

Boris has one hell of an interesting fashion sense.

Karloff you peeping pervert!

Damn you Wurdalak!

Now that's creepy as shit!

Oh my goodness! The maid can't believe how cool this anthology is.

Well if this isn't just the most creepy bedroom in the world.

This little light of mine... I'm gonna let it shine.

Hello folks.

Give me back my HAND!

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