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It’s hard to believe the first semester of Miskatonic is
already over and the holidays are upon us! Donato Totaro from Offscreen magazine
just wrapped his Mario Bava course, which focused on the Gothic elements of the
director’s work, discussing his predilection for mannequins, the uncanny,
op-art and elaborate setpieces—as well as demonstrating the historical
interplay between Federico Fellini and Bava—and placing them in the context of
Italy’s “Terza Visione” cinema. Miskatonic student Ariel Esteban Cayer took on
the task of reviewing Bava’s BLACK SABBATH, and we’ve posted it below for your
And just remember: If you see Santa Claus, you better run…you
better run…for your life!!!
Mario Bava, Italy, 1963
By Ariel Esteban Cayer
Composed of three short films, Mario Bava’s 1963 BLACK
SABBATH is required viewing for anyone looking to explore the director’s body
of work. Freely inspired from stories by Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Maupassant, the
film was made as a response to Roger Corman’s immensely successful Poe
adaptations and features a taste of almost every genre Bava would become known
for. In that respect, it is the perfect introduction to his work, as every
story showcases the mood, atmosphere and uncanny quality we have come to love
in Bava’s films. Because of their literary roots, the three stories are very
classical and conventional in form, but whether that’s your thing or not, one
thing is certain: the formula is infallible and BLACK SABBATH, which stars
Boris Karloff as narrator and actor in the second tale, is guaranteed to give
you a good time.
Following a very entertaining intro by Karloff himself, “The
Telephone” begins as a conventional giallo but quickly reveals its layers, most
of which were lost in the American recut of the film. While predictable, it is
a brilliant example of what can be done with a single room and gorgeous actress
(ANGÉLIQUE’s Michèle Mercier). Preceding WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, BLACK CHRISTMAS
and the SCREAM opener, Bava makes great use of the titular device as the viewer
finds himself uneasy every time it rings. Thankfully, the short doesn’t stray,
and it very effectively grabs your attention and goes straight to the point.
The segment manages to build (sexual) tension throughout, thanks to Bava’s
masterful cinematography and Mercier’s presence, and serves as a very good
opener to the subsequent terrors of this anthology film.
Interestingly enough, the stories revolve around the idea
that the horrific hails from the deeper feeling of love or desire, which makes
them altogether more relatable and chilling. After all, is there a more loving
creature than a vampire, especially when he’s in your own family? This
preoccupation is at the center of “The Wurdalak,” which offers a radical change
in setting. Classic vampire lore, the segment features a bone-chilling
performance by Karloff and some of Bava’s greatest filmmaking, notably through
his now-iconic use of color. Extremely powerful both in mood and tone, the
story, despite its familiar synopsis, strikes with strong imagery and ambition
that immediately brings to mind the better Hammer films.
In the last and equally stunning short film “A Drop of
Water,” Bava goes all-out with the lighting and technique to offer us what is
arguably the most effective segment of the bunch. In this amazing psychological
thriller, Bava blurs the line between the natural and the supernatural and ends
his anthology with a bang. With its surrealistic use of color and creepy atmosphere,
“A Drop of Water” is a mesmerizing short film, very important in the
understanding of Italian horror as it puts films such as SUSPIRIA and INFERNO
very much in context.
A consistent crescendo, BLACK SABBATH is an extremely
effective and entertaining example of anthology horror done absolutely right.
Stuck in a rigid mold, the film might seem outdated to younger viewers
accustomed to the gory and violent, or viewers looking for an interesting
change in gender dynamics or horror-film formula. That aside, Bava’s essential
anthology is an extremely well-done film that definitely warrants a viewing if
only for its great coda, which reminds us that these stories are indeed
constructs designed to entertain. A great “party” film, it features a wide
range of genres that will most likely thrill fans looking for variety and a
more restrained and classical approach to horror filmmaking. More than
anything, it should not go overlooked, despite the abundance that swamps the
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