The Movie Night Diaries: Black Sabbath

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This time, The Movie Night Diaries at Where the Long Tail Ends is having a look Mario Bava’s 1963 horror trilogy, Black Sabbath, or, The Three Faces of Fear. Black Sabbath stars Boris Karloff as both the anthology’s host and star of one of the entries in this trilogy of frightful tales.

An image of the poster for the film Black SabbathIt’s time for yet another horror anthology at The Movie Night Diaries HQ, perhaps the horror anthology film, the seminal Black Sabbath. I have been intrigued by this film for some time, but for some reason let it elude me until now. My love of both Italian horror and the anthology film led me to make Black Sabbath the movie chosen for the twenty-fifth entry of the Movie Night Diaries.

The film features three different stories, each one bookended by a wraparound feature hosted by the inimitable Boris Karloff. First up is “The Drop of Water,” based upon the short story of the same name by the author Ivan Chekhov. Notably, Karloff introduces the story as being written by “Chekhov,” leaving me at first thinking it was written by the famous Anton Chekhov. With some quick research via imdb.com and wikipedia.org, I discovered that this isn’t the case; however, the Chekhov that we’re concerned with still manages to pen an engaging horror story about a young woman who is haunted by the ghost of a recently dead psychic medium. Jacqueline Pierreux plays Helen Chester, an undertaker who is charged with the responsibility of caring for the corpse of the departed medium. In spite of a warning by the medium’s housemaid that, during her life, the deceased was a very jealous and possessive woman, Helen makes off with a ring from the corpse’s finger. Soon she finds herself haunted by the woman’s ghost, and the remainder of the story ticks like clockwork until its surprising ending. This is a strong beginning for the film and piqued my interest from the start.

The second story, “The Telephone” by F.G. Snyder, shapes up to be more of a psychological thriller than a horror story. The plot concerns the young Rosy, a woman who is haunted by eery telephone calls from a man claiming to be the recently deceased Frank Rainer. Frank, whom Rosy betrayed before his death, may be vengefully haunting Rosy because of her betrayal. “The Telephone” is kind of by-the-numbers and unremarkable, a brief lull in the action of the trilogy that plays more like an intermission than an entry in its own right. Rosy is aptly portrayed by the beautiful Michèle Mercier, but the second installment hits a sour note. It always seems like there must be a weak sister in any anthology of horror films, and “The Telephone” fits that bill. It is a morsel that does not satiate and leaves the audience craving something more filling from the final story of the trilogy.

Karloff is at his ghoulish best in the third story, “The Wurdalak,” based upon a novella by the Russian author Aleksei Tolstoy. The novella, Sem’ya vurdalaka has been adapted for film a number of times in the last fifty years. It concerns a family living in the Russian wilderness that is haunted by a wurdalak, a mythical creature that can shift its shape and lives on the blood of its own family. This is a uniquely Russian iteration of the vampire myth. “The Wurdalak” begins with a young baron discovering the headless corpse of a bandit in the Russian wilderness. It is soon revealed that this bandit was himself a wurdalak, put to death by the heroic rustic Gorca, played by Boris Karloff. The young baron joins Gorca’s family in eagerly awaiting his return from his excursion into the wilderness, all the while fearing he may have been turned into a wurdalak by the dead bandit. As night falls upon the family’s cottage, a mysterious figure appears on the darkening horizon who may be Gorca returning home. The young Baron is warned to leave the cottage before night falls, but is reluctant to abandon Gorca’s beautiful daughter Sdenka, played by Susy Andersen.

Black Sabbath is perhaps one of the better known horror anthologies. Ozzy Osbourne claims that the film’s title was the inspiration for the naming of the famous band. Maybe I’m suffering from horror anthology overload, but Black Sabbath is a bit weak when compared to other horror anthologies that I’ve enjoyed. Still, it is a fun film that’s full of colorful and memorable imagery. Gore hounds may find themselves disappointed, because the film is reserved and aims to chill the audience rather than shock it.

James Gillham (50 Posts)