Iíve always looked upon BLACK SABBATH ($25) as a Boris Karloff movie, because of the horror iconís hosting duties on the film, as well as his appearance in the filmís third and final segment. But even as a Karloff film, BLACK SABBATH had never really been a particular favorite of mine. However, my entire opinion of BLACK SABBATH has been radically altered by Image Entertainmentís release of the original version of the film- released in Italy under the title I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA (THE THREE FACES OF FEAR). In its unadulterated Italian version, BLACK SABBATH becomes what it should have been all along- a superior horror film by director Mario Bava and not a tepid Boris Karloff outing. Those familiar with the American version of BLACK SABBATH will find that Mario Bavaís original cut of has a different structure and a decidedly different tone, all of which works to the filmís advantage.
BLACK SABBATH features three separate and very different horror tales, with Boris Karloff appearing as the host of this journey into the macabre. Karloff also stars in The Wurdalak, the most memorable of the three stories in the American version, perhaps because it closed out the film. The Italian version of BLACK SABBATH opens with The Telephone, which tells the story of a beautiful young woman named Rosy (MichŤle Mercier), who returns home to her apartment after an evening on the town. Shortly after arriving home Rosy receives a couple of prank telephone calls, seemingly with no one on the other end of the line. Things escalate when the caller finally does speak and Rosy finds her life threatened by someone who can see her every move. Feeling unsafe in her own apartment, Rosy calls her "friend" Mary (Lidia Alfonsi), who comes over and spends the evening with her. However, things take an unexpected turn when the callerís threats are carried out.
The second of the three tales in the Italian version of the film is The Wurdalak, which is a Russian vampire tale that is very atmospheric and subtly horrifying. As The Wurdalak opens, Count Vladimire d'Urfe (Mark Damon) is traveling on horseback when finds a headless body with a dagger buried in its heart. Picking up the body, the Count makes his way to a nearby home, where the family members tell him exactly what he has found. It seems that the body belonged to a Wurdalak, which is an undead creature that lives off the blood of the living. The Wurdalak had been plaguing the countryside, until the familyís patriarch Gorca (Boris Karloff) went off to destroy the creature by plunging a dagger into its heart. Unfortunately, when Gorca returns home, his family finds him a changed man. He appears ashen and claims to hungry, but refuses food. The familyís worst fear is realized- Gorca has become the very creature he set off to kill. Hoping to save Gorcaís daughter Sdenka (Susy Andersen) from her fatherís bloodlust, the Count takes the girl and rides off with her. However, there is no escape from a creature that prizes the blood of loved ones above all else.
The final tale is entitled A Drop Of Water, which is far creepier than I remember it being in the American cut of BLACK SABBATH. A Drop Of Water concerns a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux), who is called out on a rainy night to assist in the dressing a corpse for burial. As it turns out the recently departed woman was a very powerful medium, who supposedly died in the midst of a sťance. As the nurse dresses the body, she forces a valuable ring off the dead womanís finger, knocking over a glass of water, which causes a dripping sound in the bedchamber. Somehow the continuous dripping sound follows the nurse back to her own apartment, where she is driven over the brink by visions of the dead medium, who has come to collect her stolen property. After the shock that comes at the end of A Drop Of Water, Bava and Karloff concocted an amusing closing for the movie that has never been seen by American audiences. A laugh is always a good way to release the tension that builds during a horror movie, and it proves to be an effective end to the Italian version of BLACK SABBATH.
Image Entertainment has done a terrific job with their DVD edition of BLACK SABBATH. BLACK SABBATH is framed at 1.78:1 and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. The film element shows some signs of wear, primarily at reel changes, which include scratches, speckling and other markings. Despite the flaws, the presentation is quite striking. The first thing one notices about BLACK SABBATH is Mario Bavaís impressive use of color, which is brought out in this presentation like never before. This may have something to do with Italian prints being processed by Technicolor, while the American prints were in the cheaper Pathecolor process. The colors are truly beautiful in all three segments of the film, but they are the downright hypnotic during The Wurdalak and A Drop Of Water. All of the hues on the DVD are rich and beautifully rendered without a trace of distortion. The image on the DVD is sharp and offers up a solid detail throughout the presentation. Blacks are fairly accurate and this nearly forty-year-old film manages a respectable level of shadow detail, which gives the image good depth. There are no visible traces of digital compression artifacts to mar oneís enjoyment of this fine horror movie.
The Dolby Digital Italian soundtrack does have frequency limitations, as well as some background hiss. Also, playing back the soundtrack at higher volume levels sometimes causes Robert Nicolosiís musical score to become distorted. Still, I would rather live with this annoyance, than to be subjected to the awful Les Baxter music that was tacked onto the American version of BLACK SABBATH. Easy to read yellow English subtitles are provided on the DVD, for the non-Italian speaking audience that will be purchasing this DVD. For some reason the basic interactive menus were very slow to respond on my particular DVD player. However, through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, plus a few extras. An Italian theatrical trailer, a Mario Bava biography/filmography, plus a Boris Karloff filmography and a nice size still gallery comprise the DVDís supplemental material. The DVD jacket also includes extensive liner notes by Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog magazine.
Thanks to Image Entertainmentís decision to release the original Italian version of BLACK SABBATH, I found a completely new appreciation for this terrific horror movie. This is a DVD that genre fans will want to add to their collections. Highly recommended.
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