Watched: February 12 2019
Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Michèle Mercier, Boris Karloff, Lidia Alfonsi, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi, Rika Dialyna, Glauco Onorato, Jacqueline Pierreux, Milly
Runtime: 1h 32min
After a two week hiatus (been busy being fabulous in New York!), we’re finally back with Mario Bava’s fantastic horror anthology Black Sabbath.
Black Sabbath consists of three separate stories, all tied together by host Boris Karloff, which are freely adapted from classic tales by Tolstoy, Maupassant and Chekhov. The order they appear in depends on which version of the movie you watch (there are at least two), so we will present them according to the version we watched.
The first story, “The Drop of Water,” is by Anton Chekhov. An elderly medium has died while in a trance during a seance, and when preparing her body for burial, nurse Helen Chester (Pierreux) steals a ring from the deceased. Big mistake.
Guy de Maupassant’s contribution is “The Telephone” (or is it? There is some debate as to whether Maupassant ever wrote anything like this). Rosy (Mercier) is at home in her apartment (another place we’re moving into as soon as the payment goes through) when she starts receiving strange phone calls from her former pimp. Instead of calling the police (who she probably doesn’t trust given her profession), she calls old friend Mary (Alfonsi) for help. Big mistake.
The third and final story, “The Wurdulak,” is credited to Aleksei Tolstoy (not Leo, mind you). In 19th century Russia, rider Vladimir D’Urfe (Damon) finds a backstabbed body on a horse. He brings him to the nearest house to find that the body belongs to a Turkish bandit believed to be a Wurdulak. A Wurdulak, the farmers explain, is a vampire who feeds on his or her loved ones.
The father of the family, Gorca (Karloff), has been in pursuit of the Wurdulak and has given strict orders not to let him in the house if he is gone for too long as he will have been turned. When he returns too late, with a significant personality change, the family naturally lock him out and take every precaution to stay safe while plotting how to kill him.
Just kidding! They let him in, let him play with his grandchild, follow his commands, go to bed without locking any doors and are then flabbergasted when it turns out he tries to drink their blood. Then again, this is a family who implicitly trusts an unknown Eastern European Count called Vlad while in the middle of a vampire crisis.
We’re suckers for horror anthologies and Mario Bava, so there’s really nothing here we didn’t love. The humour between segments is silly and fun, and the entire film is very aesthetically pleasing, as giallo movies tend to be. A lot of this also feels oddly modern, as if it could have been made today but by someone trying to make it look older (think Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace or “The Devil of Christmas” episode of Inside No. 9). We loved all the apartments (as stated, we’re moving into all of them), the colours, the creepy child and the ghost. Love, love, love this!
What we learned: Don’t steal from the dead. And don’t let your emotions make your decisions for you when you intellectually know better.
Next time: Charade (1963)