August 7, 2011

Black Sabbath (1963)

(AKA "I tre volti della paura")

"In this 1963 trilogy of chilling tales, a beautiful woman's ex-lover terrorizes her, a father returns home a vampire, and a ghost haunts a nurse. The vampire story - probably the most famous of the three - stars a poignant Boris Karloff, who also plays host for the anthology."

I'd heard about "Black Sabbath" many years before I actually saw it (on Hulu as it happens) and the hype about it was extreme to say the least. I know that the '60s were quite deficient in truly scary horror movies but, having watched it once again on Netflix, I am still not impressed.

The first thing I noticed was that the "floating head" introduction was very similar to the one from "House on Haunted Hill" (1959). Both could be considered rather comical (or even "cheesy") by some people and even Boris Karloff couldn't make his version any more sinister. In fact, all Karloff's introductions to the stories were little more than comic relief and ranged from an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" style to that of a full-on horror host complete with a stupid vanishing in a puff of smoke trick at the end.

As for the stories themselves, the first, entitled "The Drop of Water", was definitely the best. The grinning ghost of the old woman who haunted the nurse, who had stolen the ring from her corpse's finger, would probably have given a little kid nightmares for years to come. I will admit that it was effective even for me. The initial jump scare where her terrifying visage was first revealed was very well done. There were also a lot of cats which is always a bonus.

The second story, "The Telephone" was not so hot. Even though Rosa, played by Michèle Mercier, was undeniably sexy with her little striptease at the start, she wasn't exactly toned and couldn't act either. There was originally a lesbian subtext to the story which either I completely missed or it wasn't even in the Netflix version but that really held no interest for me anyway. After all the failed attempts at suspense, the ending was just so weak that I really wonder how this film became so overrated.

It appears that the American version of "Black Sabbath" changed the order of the stories so the final tale, "The Wurdalak", should have been in the middle (with "The Telephone" at the start). It looked good, like a Hammer film and really colourful, but the story itself was far too long and rather boring. Boris Karloff moved from presenter back to actor but was unfortunately way past his prime for either role. It wasn't scary or exciting but Mario Bava fanboys rave about it for some reason.

Horror anthologies have always been more miss than hit so the blame lies in the format more than anything else. If "The Wurdalak" had been a full length feature on its own, I'm sure that it would have been a classic even though it was really five years too late to compete with the best of Hammer.

Overall, I was quite disappointed by "Black Sabbath". I can see how it might have seemed good at the time but it's very dated and tame compared to what we have now. The same isn't true of all horror films from this period as some, such as "Psycho" (1960), obviously still hold up well today. I'm rating this as average.

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