Written by: Michael Den Boer on May 19th, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, 1963
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Ivan Chekhov, Marcello Fondato, F.G. Snyder, Aleksei Tolstoy
Cast: Michèle Mercier, Lidia Alfonsi, Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi, Glauco Onorato, Rika Dialina, Jacqueline Pierreux, Milly Monti, Harriet Medin, Gustavo De Nardo, Milo Quesada
BluRay released: May 13th, 2013
Approximate running times: 92 minutes (Italian Version), 96 minutes (AIP Version)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC (Both Versions)
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD Mono Italian (Italian Version), DTS-HD Mono English (AIP Version)
Subtitles: English (Italian Version), English SDH (AIP Version)
BluRay Release: Arrow Video
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £22.99
Black Sabbath is a trio of tales. The first story ‘The Telephone’ is a about prostitute who is terrorized by a phantom phone caller. The second story ‘The Wurdalak’ is about a family patriarch who returns from a hunting trip with a vampire like thirst for blood. The third story ‘The Drop of Water’ is about a nurse who steals a ring from one of her recently deceased clients who was a spiritualist who died during a séance.
Depending on which version of the film you choose, the running order of the three stories is different. The running order for the AIP version is as follows, ‘The Drop of Water’, ‘The Telephone’ and ‘The Wurdalak’. Also the Italian release version of the film goes by the alternate title ‘I Tre volti della paura’ which roughly translates into The Three Faces of Fear.
The film’s score for the Italian language version was composed by Roberto Nicolosi (Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much), while the score for the AIP version of the film was composed by Lex Baxter (The Fall of the House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum).
When discussing Italian horror cinema, Mario Bava is the name that instantly springs to mind more than any other filmmaker that has worked within this genre. This is not that surprising, since he co-directed, I vampiri, a film that is widely regarded as the film that announced the arrival of the modern horror film in Italian cinema.
Content wise, there is no denying the overall impact of the three tales that make up, Black Sabbath. Which is arguably Mario Bava’s definitive statement on the horror film genre. These are not just your run of the mill things that go bump in the night exercises in scaring horror film audiences. Each segment relies equally on all of its parts, it’s robust visuals, utterly convincing performances and it’s deliberate use of sound. With this film’s most diabolical asset being the way in which it involves the viewer in a Hitchcockian way to experience the mounting terror that engulfs each protagonist.
Of course being that there are three stand alone tales that make up this film. It is only natural to judge them on their own merits and also weigh said merits against the other segments in this film. Though my appreciation for Black Sabbath has grown with each new viewing.
My choice of a favorite segment has never wavered and that segment is titled ‘ The Drop of Water’. Whether it be this segments incessant use of ambient background noise, most notably dripping water or the creepy looking old woman who’s death plays an integral part in the story at hand. This segment is the epitome of what a horror can and should always be, terrifying no matter how many times you watch it.
When it comes to the other two segments, there placement for me depends on my mood. With the slight edge at this moment going to the segment titled ‘The Telephone’, which echoes many of the elements from my all time favorite film genre, the Giallo. Not to be overlooked it the segment titled ‘ The Wurdalak’, which takes the all too familiar vampire mythos and turns it on its head. In all, truthfully you can’t really go wrong with any of the three tales of the macabre that make up Mario Bava’s seminal horror film, Black Sabbath.
Black Sabbath comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. The two versions included with this release not only have different edits / running order of the three stories. The overall quality between these two transfers also has significant differences. With the Italian language version being the stronger of the two versions. The main differences between these two release is that of the color timing and the AIP version looks brighter of the two versions. It should also be noted that when compared to the previous DVD’s releases, that the framing on these two transfers included with this release is ever so slightly different.
Each version of the film contained on the BluRay disc comes with one audio option each a DTS-HD mix in Mono. Both audio tracks sound superb as dialog always come through with crystal clear clarity, everything sounds balanced and robust when it needs too.
Extras on the BluRay disc include a featurette titled ‘Twice the Fear’ about the differences between the Italian version of the film and the AIP version of the film (32 minutes 13 seconds – 1080 Progressive widescreen, in Italian / English with English subtitles / English text) and an audio commentary with Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas. Any remotely familiar with Tim Lucas work as a film critic and his mammoth tome about Mario Bava are in for a well versed look into the various aspects of this film. It should be noted that the audio commentary can only be accessed while watching the Italian language version of the film.
Also included with this combo release are two DVD’s, the first DVD contains the Italian version of the film and the following extras, the aforementioned audio commentary with Tim Lucas, a introduction to the film with author and critic Alan Jones, a radio spot, a T.V. spot, the U.S. release trailer, the International release trailer and Italian release trailer and a career retrospective interview with actor Mark Damon (21 minutes 1 second – 1080 Progressive widescreen). The second DVD contains the AIP version of the film and the aforementioned featurette ‘Twice the Fear’.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art and a forty page booklet that contains numerous images from the film, two essay’s about the film, the first titled ‘Three Steps to Hell’ written by David Cairns and the second one titled ‘Two Faces of Black Sabbath’ written by Tim Lucas. Other contents in this booklet include Tim Lucas’s lengthy interview with producer AIP Samuel Z. Arkoff and text piece about the transfers and restoration work that went into this release. Overall it is hard to imagine that anyone will top this impressive release and just like their other Mario Bava’s release, this release from Arrow Video is superior in every way to its American counterpart.