We've done a lot of quasi-horror on this blog (by design, of course), but tonight's film couldn't be better Halloween viewing if it were explicitly designed as such. Halloween is all about that blend of scary and fun, and I don't know if I've seen a better exercise in that dichotomy than Mario Bava's Black Sabbath.
I think there's some kind of FCC regulation or something that says that whenever you write about an anthology film you have to say something like "anthology films are by their very nature uneven." But fuck that because I love all three chapters of Black Sabbath. In some ways, the anthology movie is a perfect match with what Bava does best as a director, since he's rarely interested enough in conventional narrative to gracefully stretch his plots over 80 minutes or more. Luckily he doesn't have to do that here, as each of the three stories clock in between 20 and 40 minutes.
We begin on our host Boris Karloff, who on my DVD has been tragically dubbed into Italian, obscuring his wonderful voice. He's still got a great screen presence, though, especially when he's bathed in Bava's signature lurid lights. "You think you can handle this shit, you fucking pussy?," he asks the audience. Classic Boris!
The first chapter is a Hitchcockian chamber piece called "The Telephone." It's called that because the heroine is tormented by a raspy-voiced stalker/mad killer via her telephone. I love the way Bava creates such a clean and elegant kind of tension by gliding his camera throughout the woman's apartment. And the way he reveals the killer, by taking advantage of the camera's ability to see things the naked eye can miss, is vintage Bava.
Next we have the folk-horror tale "The Wurdalak," which features our host Karloff as the patriarch of a very unfortunate family out in the woods where the titular curse is thick in the air. The actual mechanics of how the Wurdalak operates is a bit fuzzy, but sometimes that just makes it scarier. Bava taps into some primal horror juju for this one, and spins a tale about the people who love us the most turning into bloodthirsty killers. It's good.
Finally there's "The Drop of Water," which I see a lot of people dismiss but I think is just as good as the other two. The plot has to do with a really disturbing-looking dead psychic medium and the havoc she's able to bring about ... FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. Check out the final scene with some truly amazing eyeball acting from the woman playing the nurse's landlord.
Anyway, I love Black Sabbath and I think it might just be Bava's best movie. I don't know if Bava was a fan of EC Comics, but intentionally or not he made a movie that captures their spirit perfectly, far better than George Romero's more explicit homage Creepshow. It's such a perfect Halloween movie that I almost wish I'd waited until October 31st to watch it.