Earlier this week, I wrote a little bit about Boris Karloff. I thought his charisma was worth revisiting, so I found a film streaming on Netflix that featured him prominently. Black Sabbath is an anthology horror film directed by Italian horror icon, Mario Bava. Fresh off his success of Black Sunday, Mario takes Karloff’s tendency to lay on the cheese for the cameras and gives him the important role of announcer and main vampire. Both of these roles work to Bava’s advantage.
This film is actually a collection of three short films. Each one is a taut little thriller that could have easily been full length. The first one is called The Drop of Water. In this one a nurse at the turn of the last century is called to prepare a body for a funeral. The housekeeper won’t even go near the body of a woman who just a couple of weeks before looked and acted fine. The body lies there with a grotesque expression but the nurse pays no attention to it. Instead she covets a beautiful ring on her finger. When the housekeeper is not looking, the nurse takes the ring off of the dead woman’s finger and slips it in a pocket. After she has gotten back to her small apartment, she slips on the ring. Almost instantly weird goings on plague her. She is haunted by a drop of water that echoes menacingly throughout the whole apartment. An overreaching presence consumes her and menaces her until she is twisted much like the dead body was earlier that night.
The second installment is a segment called The Telephone. In this short film, a young woman comes home to hear her telephone ringing. She picks it up but no one is there. This happens several times until a male voice is heard describing her activities as she moves across the apartment. He threatens her and she is gets visibly freaked out. She finally calls a woman who comes over to stay the night with her. From the exchanges between the two women, the audience learn that the man who is plaguing her is her dead husband/lover. Much like Diabolique, the other woman makes her out to be crazy, but is she really?
The third installment features Boris Karloff as the only time he had been a vampire. A lonely man appears at a farmhouse that features a strange family. There is a myth that pervades this family about a man who must be killed but once killed that man will then change. The stranger takes an uncommon interest in this family mainly because of the hot daughter that serves everyone. He tries to untangle her from the family’s clutches, but will he succeed?
Mario Bava makes each gaudily photographed installment ring with tension and horror. Each installment is filmed in color but the cheap color that Corman specializes in. You know what I am talking about, right? But this cheesy color and over the top set pieces only add to the eerie sense of foreboding that this movie cultivates. This cheesiness is accented by Boris Karloff’s introductions. These intros are in the style of Elvira or the Crypt Keeper but made even better by Karloff’s attempts at scary voices. They are a comic relief that is needed in between the thrills. Karloff can be amazing even when he is playing himself.