Boris Karloff stands in front of a blue void and narrates three tales of terror from Italian horror maestro Mario (Black Sunday) Bava.
In the first story, The Telephone (** ½), a hot chick gets menacing phone calls from a mysterious stranger who can see her every move. She deduces the caller is her recently escaped homicidal boyfriend so she calls her sexy friend (and lover! HEY OH!) and has her come over to keep her company. Unfortunately for her, her ex also shows up looking to ring her pretty little neck.
Bava slowly builds suspense and does a fine job at maintaining it, which is quite a feat considering this is essentially a one person story. Too bad the plot is paper thin and suffers from a lifeless ending. It also doesn’t help that it goes on way too long, even though it only runs 30 minutes.
The next story, The Wurdalak (***) stars Karloff as the titular vampire who returns to his family’s home after his death to feed off his living relatives. (Wurdalaks can only drink the blood of their loved ones.) He puts the bite on them one by one until only his hot daughter and the romantic lead Mark Damon are left. It all ends with the hottie sinking her teeth into Damon’s jugular. (Hey, at least that means she loves him, right?)
This segment has the look of a Corman Poe movie (co-star Damon was also in The Fall of the House of Usher), but it has a sinister charm all it’s own. The scene where Karloff puts his grandchild on his knee and leers at him ominously like he’s going to turn him into a hot lunch will certainly give you the heebie jeebies and the severed head gag is superb for a 60’s flick. Although this story suffers from some pokey pacing (at almost 40 minutes, it’s by far the longest of the stories), it’s easily the best looking of the bunch as the colorful cinematography is absolutely spellbinding.
The Drop of Water (***) tells the story of a bitchy nurse who is hired by a mortician to prepare the corpse of an old clairvoyant for her funeral. While dressing the body, the nurse steals the corpse’s ring and faces the wrath of the old woman’s ghost, which personifies itself in the form of an annoying fly, an irritating drop of water, and finally in the form of the old woman’s ghost.
This story may be the best of them all as it’s straight up meat and potatoes horror that channels the best of the EC Horror Comics as well as Bava’s patented gothic sensibilities. It’s short, simple, and to the point and the villain gets her just desserts in the end, so what’s not to like?
The exploitation geniuses at AIP bought this flick, changed around the order of the stories, took out all the references to lesbianism and re-titled it to cash in on their previous Bava hit, Black Sunday. While it’s nowhere near the same league as that immortal classic, Black Sabbath is still quite a lot of fun for both anthology fans and Bava loyalists. I especially liked the way Bava used sound to enhance the film’s atmosphere. In The Telephone, it’s the constant ringing of the phone, it’s the whirling winds that signal the return of The Wurdalak, and in The Drop of Water it’s… well the drop of water. The film is also lushly photographed (the trippy Karloff hosted framing device in particular) and ranks among one of the finest looking films Bava ever cranked out.
AKA: The Three Faces of Fear.