The promise of Boris Karloff in an Italian horror anthology film made Black Sabbath irresistible to me. Karloff himself introduces the audience to three terrible tales (and also stars in one) directed by Mario Bava, each one dealing with a different kind of horror. The only problem with Black Sabbath was that I unfortunately saw the American version which upon my further research told me was drastically altered from the original Italian version.
Maybe the people who edited the American version didn't think that the story order mattered that much, but it was the first thing I picked up on as something that hindered Black Sabbath's effectiveness. In the American version, the order of stories goes "The Drop of Water," "The Telephone," then "The Wurdalak," while the original order from the Italian version is "Telephone," "Wurdalak," and then "Water." Then to make matters worse, they also did some heavy cutting on the second best story of the bunch, "The Telephone," turning it into a bit of a confusing mess at the conclusion. However, the individual stories are still effective on their own even if the overall presentation of the anthology is screwed up.
So first up in my version was "The Drop of Water" and really starts the movie out with a bang. A nurse is called to the home of an older woman who has just died in order to prepare her for burial. While dressing her, the nurse steals a ring from the dead woman's hand. The nurse goes home only to find out that woman's ghost has followed her there and intends to terrify her. The story is simple and the ghostly instances are also simple and subtle but it all works so well, coupled with the odd lighting and set decorations for both locations.
But of course the most effective element in "Water" is the absolutely terrifying, nightmare-inducing, fucking freaky-ass looking dead woman. Look at that picture of her up there! WHAT IS THAT
?! Where did it come from, and is it really dead because it's looking at me like it's going to eat me!? Whoever came up with the look of this chick is either insane or a genius because I don't think I'll be able to scrub this image out of my brain EVER. Oh, and then to make it worse later, they have the dead woman haunt the nurse in her apartment and freaking come slowly floating toward her
. Jeebus, I'd choke myself to death, too, just to get away from that creature. Gah!
So now that I've been traumatized for life, the next story is "The Telephone," which is equally as good as "Water" except for this is the one that the editing messed up. Basic rundown is that a beautiful young woman named Rosy starts receiving strange phone calls with the caller saying all kinds of kinky things and, even worse, telling her things that make her know that he is watching her. The caller appears to be her dead lover, Frank, so Rosy's obviously freaked out and she calls this other chick named Mary to stay with her. Mary acts all strange and ends up drugging Rosy with a tranquilizer. While we think Rosy's dead, Mary sits down to write her a letter and Frank the dead guy comes in and kills Mary. Rosy wakes up, Frank comes after her, but she stabs him to death. Then the phone is off its cradle and Rosy still hears Frank's voice coming out of it. Over.
The story was working out so well for the first part of this until things got all kinds of confusing. The editing for the American version ruined everything. So we never find out that Rosy and Mary were actually lesbian lovers, that Frank was not really dead, and that Mary was the one calling Rosy pretending to be Frank. Yeah, that's a real good idea to take out all the elements that would actually make the story make some sense. Good call. What we have to deal with in the American version is a sorta-ghost story thing but at the same time not really because ghosts can't strangle people or be stabbed to death. This is still a great story though, with a really fantastically creepy atmosphere, and I'm just going to have to remember it as it should have been in the Italian version.
I don't really know how "The Wurdalak" fits in with either of the two earlier stories at all. This is where the rummaging around with the story order really hurts Black Sabbath because no way should "Wurdalak" have been the last story in the anthology. Granted, I was already feeling a little sleepy by the time this one rolled around, but damn, did "Wurdalak" almost bore me to death. It seemed to go on a lot longer than the earlier stories, and the change of time period and pace was somewhat jarring (especially toward the end when I was half asleep but still able to register that there was almost no talking in the last 10 or 15 minutes - ugh). The action is slow and I barely even remember what happened - not the best state in which to write a review, but I really don't think a rewatch would make me like this one any more. Karloff is great at looking all disheveled and freaky, and his performance as Gorcha is great even when he's not doing anything. Don't have anything more definitive to say about this one, sorry.
Oh, no, wait. One very entertaining part of "Wurdalak" has got to be Boris Karloff's line when he wants to hold his grandson Ivan but the mother seems a little hesitant so Karloff says, "Can't I fondle my own grandson?!" Oh. My. Goodness.
I have no doubt that it would have been so much better to see Black Sabbath as it was originally intended by Bava, in the right order and without all the ridiculous cuts to one segment. I love Karloff's introductions with his fabulous wit (little disappointed that there was no "goodbye" message or something at the end) and the first two stories are strongly written and acted with the perfect atmosphere; however, the last story almost brings the whole thing down. Totally worth a look, though, for anyone who hasn't seen it.
Dubbing with verbal translation always hurt the film. Written translation on the bottom of the screen is enough.ReplyDelete
Actually, I was surprised that the dubbing didn't bother me as much with this one as it normally does. Definitely prefer subtitles overall, anyway.Delete
It's my favorite movie of one of my favorite directors! :)ReplyDelete
You have spoken well of the order of the episodes and cuts: the episode of the phone has been cut to eliminate references lesbo!
The face of the medium of the "La goccia d'acqua" traumatized me too, was created by Eugenio Bava, Mario's father, already active in the very first italian cinema. :)
Oh, thanks for the info - didn't know Bava's father was involved in creating the dead woman. Terrifying, I say, absolutely terrifying! But of course, very effective!Delete
The Drop of Water is SSOOO creepy! This is one of my favorite anthology films. - CoryReplyDelete
So, so, so creepy indeed! It would have made the whole movie so much better for me if this creepy bitch had been the last story in the bunch (like it is in the Italian version) - probably would have made even more of a lasting impression.Delete
Damned shame about the American version. It sounds interesting.ReplyDelete
One of the ONLY examples where I like the American version 'better'....music and all.ReplyDelete