Black Sabbath (UK Blu-ray)
Directed by Mario Bava
Distributed by Arrow Video
Anthology films are often a mixed bag in terms of the general quality of their segments; yet, Mario Bava's Black Sabbath has an almost infallible reputation amongst supporters of the man's career -- and with good cause, as the only variation here is not in quality, but in style and tone. Offering up three distinct tales -- I, Wurdulak, The Telephone and The Drop of Water -- Bava dishes up scares, suspense, smouldering sensuality and Gothic shivers with confident poise throughout.
I, Wurdalak features the legendary Boris Karloff (who also provides the segues that break up the three tales) as family patriarch Gorca, who finds himself turned into a Wurdalak -- a vampire that must feast on the blood of only those he loves -- in a segment dripping with Gothic atmosphere, chilling performances and a theme of desperation and familial betrayal.
In The Telephone the gorgeous Michèle Mercier plays call girl Rosy, who finds herself repeatedly harassed on the phone by her former lover, Frank, who purports to be free of jail and watching her every move. Modern styling combines with a sensual bent and controversy-courting (for the decade) lesbian sub-plot to create a slick and taut short thriller that found itself taking a most unusual metamorphosis in the American version of the film. More on that later.
Finally, Bava throws a supernatural tour-de-force into the mix with the horrifying A Drop of Water, whereby a morally bankrupt nurse who steals a ring from the finger of a deceased medium finds herself terrorised by the dead woman's vengeful spirit seeking the return of her property. Steeped in disconcerting dread and bathed in neon and primary colours (which most certainly informed the visual style of Dario Argento's later supernatural works), backed up with toe-curling sound design and a ghost that remains genuinely frightening in its appearance even to this day, A Drop of Water is a brilliant piece of work.
So the film itself is thoroughly excellent -- but what about the package? Well, folks... this is what you've been waiting for as Arrow Video have pulled out all the stops for this release. Not only do we have a rather magnificent transfer of the original Italian release entitled I tre volti della paura, but we are also presented with a high-def restoration of the previously hard to find US version from American International Pictures. This one features different segues by Karloff between the tales, a replacement score by Les Baxter, and the main stories are presented in not only a different order, but also with some quite major differences in visual and sound editing. As mentioned, The Telephone undergoes a rather dramatic (and detrimental) change as the distributor attempts to turn it into a more classic ghost story with startlingly contrasting results. Visually, the better of the two transfers is most certainly the Italian version, but that is not to say that the AIP edition is in anything less than a sterling job considering the apparent rarity of source materials. Alongside the high-def presentations in this deluxe set, Arrow have also included both versions of Black Sabbath in DVD format as well.
On the special features front, the featurette "Twice the Fear" gives an insightful side-by-side comparison of the various differences between the Italian and US cuts of the film which lays bare the difference that sound and editing can have on the cinematic experience, while "A Life in Film" gives us an enjoyable interview with star Mark Damon as he recalls various elements of his career. Bava expert Tim Lucas also provides another fantastic audio commentary for Arrow's Bava line, with a seemingly endless stream of knowledge flowing forth throughout. Various trailers and TV and radio spots for the film round out the on-disc extras.
Inside the pack there's a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic David Cairns, a comparison of the two versions of the film by Tim Lucas, and an interview with AIP Producer Samuel Z. Arkoff (not included for review). As usual, Arrow also offer you up a choice of artwork on their reversible sleeve sporting the original poster artwork and a brand new graphic by artist Graham Humphreys.
Quite easily the greatest package yet for what is undoubtedly a major highlight in Mario Bava's career, Arrow's special edition of Black Sabbath is an essential purchase for any Euro-horror fan's collection. If you're in the US, however, you're going to need a multi-region player for this, as it's locked to Region B.
5 out of 5
5 out of 5