Black Sabbath (1963)

Mario Bava directs Boris Karloff, Michèle Mercier and Lidia Alfonsi in this mini trilogy of spooky tales, framed in a colourful comic book style.

Watched as part of the Filmhouse’s late Uncanny Valley strand, this is a horror that isn’t particularly scary, yet feels like a cornerstone for the genre. The anthology format is a veteran of horror from Dead of Night to Holidays. This one is the nexus point. Our first story in which an unbelievably sexy lady is terrorised by a voice on the telephone feels like the progenitor for every slasher, specifically the giallo. The future of horror birthed up in 20 minutes. It really should be placed last in the running (different countries got different chapter orders). The paranoia and threat and sexual vulnerability are palpable. The first 10 edits are essentially a coy striptease show (and what a show the voluptuous Michèle Mercier puts on – she’d make the wolf’s eyes pop out and tongue roll two feet long), the rest a whodunit with only three characters. Tarantino certainly stole his trademark patient one-set set piece from this. Bava gifted QT his ‘moving the domino pieces into place, then chatting so you forget they are about to tumble in glorious inevitably’ mode with this long, steady one scene marvel. The knife moves under the pillow, the vengeful brute introduced into the locked room, the fatal air of jealousy established about desiring the unobtainable Mary. Then watch them all cascade in quick, kinetic finale. It is a fantastic slice of cinema, my favourite in a long while. Natalie preferred the other two tales. Period gothic horrors in the Hammer style. Curses, monsters, zombies, untrustworthy families, contacting the spirit world. Two little stories – every sub genre but body horror covered. Even self aware – the coda is a joyful piece of meta where Boris Karloff and Bava himself break character. We pan back from a shoddy effect, a camp piece of narration to reveal the crew stopping work and the old horror star cackling at the prank. It is a scream. Just, like I said at the start, not very scary.


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