Genre Pictures IV

film 4 of 5

Black Sabbath

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 29, 2015

Not to be confused with the same director’s not far from contemporaneous Black Sunday, (q.v.)!

Mario Bava is a very important filmmaker, and Italy is very important in the history of horror movies. This one comes along at a very important point, as in many ways the near future of the Italian horror is proceeding from here. Scholars and aficionados will enjoy that, but there’s still lots for everyone else as well.

As with a number of other films of the period, this one’s structured as a linked anthology, or portmanteau. That’s productive. Boris Karloff didn’t always, maybe didn’t even often get the best production support for al lot of the films in which he appeared. But Bava, in his own sphere, is Karloff’s equal, and their collaboration here is quite productive.

The direct address is fun up until the end, at which point someone contrived an apparatus reveal that is quite cheeky, and lots of fun. We like spoilers around here, but we’ll forebear this time.

In addition, beyond, extremely, there’s “The Drop of Water,” for my money the best of the story segments, and really one of the best feats of pure filmmaking in the history of horror.

The story is serviceable but it’s probably not all that resonant. Definitely not profound, or anything like that. No, the impact of this little tale of greed and supernatural revenge comes completely down to craft, which is just really, absolutely exquisite. We blame it on this stylish director, as we should. But he collaborated too, and whether his collaborators’ contributions were closely supervised or not, the combination really is a marvel.

This might sound kind of film geeky, or only of interest to a practitioner. Well, okay cinematographers and designers (make up!). Get over here! But effective collaboration isn’t just of interest to the specialist. Gesamptkunstwerk! Audiences interested in the full package and the real deal, entertainment-wise, are going to be just as well served. This being a horror film on the brink of an era of exploitation, I guess that doesn’t mean that Bava’s Black Sabbath counts as something for everyone. But that combination of skillful artistry and ingratiating entertainment could still give most everyone pause.

Do we have to choose? Really, it might be best to have both these tracks operating simultaneously, all the time. Have fun. Smartly. And vice versa.