Sunday, March 18, 2012

REVIEW: Black Sabbath (1963)

Classic horror is from a more innocent time. The genre spawned fantastical tales of mystique and intrigue, whimsical yet frightening stories of foreboding and human folly turned sour. This is Black Sabbath, a veritable example of exactly that kind of pulpy greatness.

Directors: Mario Bava, Salvatore Billitteri
Starring: Boris Karloff

This is actually a little anthology of stories, narrated by none other than Boris Karloff, the horror legend himself. That is cool as hell. There are three tales here, and I will review each one of them in a relatively compact fashion…

The first story is about a woman who steals a ring off of a dead body, only to have the ghost come back and haunt her. It’s a fairly typical tale of revenge from beyond the grave for an injustice, and follows all the usual parameters as such – she acts incredibly vain and selfish before, and then after she steals it, things start to seem all the more creepy and haunting with every passing moment, and she becomes paranoid. It’s not a very complex story, and as such, it’s the shortest tale here. This one isn’t bad, but it doesn’t really have a lot going on…well, except for the ghost’s creepy as hell face at the end:

That pretty much makes the whole thing worth it. There are a few other good scares, and a definite atmosphere, but overall it’s just a straightforward, workmanlike horror story.

The second one is a Hitchcockian thriller about a woman who starts to receive threatening phone calls from her dead ex-boyfriend. This was a really gripping and claustrophobic little tale that reminded me a lot of Dial M for Murder. But rather than just rip off that classic, it uses the Hitchcock influence to a good end and creates a very tense thriller. The lead girl is sexy as hell even when she’s in distress, and the movie gets more and more deranged and paranoid as it goes on. The ending doesn’t make much sense, but the movie as a whole is a grim, chilling slice of 60s style horror pie. Glorious.

The last story is the longest one, about a creature known as the Wurdalack, which is a sort of vampire that kills only people it loves. Well, they always did say that you hurt the ones you love, so I guess I’ll buy this. The main character is some foppish Spanish prissy-boy who rides around on a horse and follows a bloody trail to find a headless body, which leads him to an old mansion where a family lives. The family is keeping secrets, though, and once their father (also played masterfully by Karloff) returns, things get bloody fast.

This was apparently the most famous story here, and I can see why. Sometimes it’s a little off, and I really hate the main character’s attitude towards the female lead – “you should forget all about your family’s deaths because I say so!” – but the atmosphere is excellently macabre, the lighting is theatrical and showy in that great old-school horror style and Karloff and the vampires around him are all really well done. It’s a really cool flick, and well worth your time.

So that’s Black Sabbath, and wasn’t it wonderful? It’s nice to go back to a time when horror movies were geared to be fun, like campfire tales. Too many modern movies in the genre forgo that aspect for extremity and overly serious tones that just end up falling flat and coming off as immature. So this was a treat, and if you love old horror you will dig the hell out of this. Plus, it inspired a great band!

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