Black Sabbath stars Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, and Michele Mercier and was directed by Mario Bava. It’s a collection of three short stories: The Drop of Water, in which a dead medium places a curse on somebody who wronged her, The Telephone, which focuses on a woman getting mysterious and threatening phone calls, and The Wurdulak, which is a family-based twist on the vampire genre. Ugh, yet another horror anthology. If you couldn’t tell, I have a bit of a problem with horror anthologies. Due to their short story format, anthologies are inherently a plot-based form of entertainment. For me, plot can set things up nicely, but it’s the characters that pull a story together. Unfortunately, anthologies usually don’t allow enough time for character development.
The stories either are good, but disappointing in their lack of follow through, or they’re simply dull and left undeveloped. Despite its status in horror subculture, I went into my first viewing of Black Sabbath with minimal expectations. So, when the film began with a silly low-production value intro with Boris Karloff acting as the host, I wasn’t particularly surprised or excited. But then “The Drop of Water” began and I have to say that I was enthralled. The first thing that struck me was the detailed nature of the set design.
This was something that was pretty impeccable across all three tales, but it was especially impactful in this first ghostly story. The flickering of neon signs, the now-archaic bits of time-appropriate technology, the creepiness of the old woman’s house with all of her dolls and cats; all things that contributed to the unsettling nature of this story. For me, The Drop of Water was the most effective and creepy of the segments with the most startling imagery and a truly haunting corpse. It was also the most interesting tale, not only cause of its premise, but also cause of its set-up. It’s initially (and perhaps always) unclear whether the nurse is actually being haunted or if everything she experiences is simply guilt-induced paranoia.
I mean, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve spooked ourselves and then spent the night in a state of mildly freaked out anxiety, noticing every little sound. This segment also had a surprisingly satisfying and enigmatic ending. After the effective first segment, my expectations had been greatly heightened heading into “The Telephone”. As with the previous segment, it too exhibited some great set design and was filmed with cinematography prowess not frequently seen in this type of film. Even the story was initially compelling. Despite the more modern time period setting of this story though, it somehow felt more dated.
I was on board with the paranoia and thriller-style plot, but the protagonist simply made too many stupid “helpless girl” decisions that started to rub me the wrong way after a while. It’s not a bad segment overall, but the ending certainly felt a bit out of place. Afterwards, I did a little research only to learn that the English dubbed version that I watched heavily edited the original Italian version of this story, swapping out a purely stalker-based plot with a ham-fisted attempt to insert a supernatural ghost element to the segment. At least that accounts for the inconsistencies in the story. Last and certainly least is “The Wurdalak”, encapsulating just about everything I dislike in a horror anthology.
This segment takes a dull gothic horror period piece and crams a complex mythology, loads of melodrama, and a whole hell of a lot of characters into too short of a time frame. Don’t get me wrong, I would certainly not be interested in watching a feature length version of this story, but the concept of a wurdalak is enough to warrant more exploration at the very least… just not in this way. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. This movie’s major pro is its tension. It does a surprisingly good job building up a foreboding, tense atmosphere that really heightens the stories.
This is especially true for the The Drop of Water segment (with its Telltale Heart-esque psychological torture), but even The Telephone segment benefits from this for most of its runtime. I find that the tension runs out during The Wurdulak, but it does still maintain a dense atmosphere at the very least. On the con side, my biggest issue is inherent to the film’s structure: it’s an anthology. I know it’s a common thing for these older horror movies, but I really can’t stand the style. If I wanted to watch disconnected short films, I’d watch some short films.
I mean, I knew going in that this was an anthology, so it wasn’t a surprise to me or anything, but I really hate when a collection of short stories gets passed off as a feature film under one name. I’m sure not too many people share this annoyance, but anthologies really are a movie pet peeve of mine. Con number two is kind of an extension of that first con, but this is a really disjointed film. Obviously, the fact that it’s a collection of short films makes it inherently disjointed, but there’s really no connection between the segments.
There’s certainly no narrative throughline or shared characters, but even the tone of the three segments vary wildly. It really feels like they randomly plucked three short films out of a pile and just threw them together under the Black Sabbath moniker. My third con is the overdramatic acting. This is something that spans across all three segments and is kinda distracting.
It’s, in part, a product of its time and I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the actors were actually stage actors who were used to overdramatizing and projecting for a theater audience, but it’s a little laughable at times here. The first two segments both had scenes involving somebody answering a phone in a super rushed and unnatural way that was just so overdramatic and the entirety of the third segment felt like a melodramatic adaptation of a play.
I’m gonna give Black Sabbath 3 out of 5 paws, but that’s largely due to the first segment: The Drop of Water. For an anthology film, this is decent, but the format really prevents me from ever going any higher. I would recommend Black Sabbath to people who like horror anthologies. Probably kinda obvious, but if you’re somebody who likes them, you’re gonna get the most out of this one. If you’re looking for a decent horror short, I’d definitely point you to The Drop of Water segment, but I don’t know if I’d exactly recommend the other two sections. If you liked Black Sabbath, I would recommend Kwaidan.
It’s another anthology film from the 60s that could loosely be classified as horror. There’s a little less horror to that one than there is here, but in exchange there’s a little more tonal consistency. If you want a more straight-forward horror anthology, I would suggest Creepshow which was a joint creative venture between George A. Romero and Stephen King. If you’re not interested in an anthology, but want another paranoid psychological 60s horror, you might wanna check out The Crimson Cult a.k.a.
The Crimson Altar a.k.a. Curse of the Crimson Altar. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Black Sabbath? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite horror anthology film? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.