Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the release of the first album by Black Sabbath, and since I’ve already marked the occasion on my radio show by devoting last week’s to them I thought I might revisit here the film they took their name from… originally called I tre volti della paura, of course, but retitled by co-producers AIP to evoke memories of Black Sunday. As Tim Lucas’ DVD notes observe, the film was the result of a neat combination of circumstances: the popularity of short-form horror/mystery/etc tales on TV, such as Thriller; the similarly rising popularity of European portmanteau films; AIP’s recent signing of Boris Karloff and their success with Tales of Terror; and Mario Bava’s own recent success in Italy. Put Bava and Karloff together with AIP money to do another horror shorts anthology, and here’s what you get… assuming, of course, you watch the Italian version like I did. “The Telephone” kicks proceedings off and serves to foreshadow the rise of the giallo in the next decade but I’m not sure it’s up to much by itself, and it sits ill with the more supernatural gothic angles of the other two stories. Midsection “The Wurdulak” is much the best, being more tradiitional gothic stuff like Black Sunday… though to be honest while I was watching it I did find myself pondering this material being in colour; Bava had made such a definitive statement in black & white with Black Sunday that I wondered, frankly, if the use of colour here was wise. And then suddenly it struck me at some point that I shouldn’t be so daft, Bava knew exactly what he was doing; namely, a fantastic use of colour for the purposes of fantastic storytelling. And once we get to “The Drop of Water”, with that terrific pulsating green business going on, that point just seems more and more obvious. A mixed bag on the whole, as you might reasonably expect, but at its best it really is something.
Black Sabbath (1963)