Mario Bava has been well served by Arrow Video in the UK recently and Black Sabbath arguably his best known film now gets the special edition treatment. Made in 1963 “I tre volti della paura” a.k.a “Black Sabbath” has three tales of terror The Telephone, The Drop of Water and The Wurdalak. It should be noted that on both versions of the film the running order of the stories are different.
In the best and most spooky story A Drop Of Water a nurse is hired by a housekeeper to prepare the corpse of her dead employer for her upcoming funeral. When she gets to the lavish mansion, she discovers that the dead woman was a famous clairvoyant. She sets about dressing the body when she notices a large ring and deceptively steals it. When she arrives home that evening strange noises and things start to happen as the corpse seeks revenge for the theft, is it real or is she just losing her mind? Great colour cinematography and good use of sound, this story still raises goosebumps even after all these years.
The second story is the weakest of the three, The Telephone. a beautiful woman is harassed by phone calls from a supposedly dead man, not only that but he seems to know her every move in the apartment. After the phone calls get more and more graphic she calls over an old female friend but things are not as they seem. Again wonderfully shot, but the suspense is a bit weak and the climax very underwhelming.
The final tale The Wurdelak stars horror legend Boris Karloff (who also introduces the film and all 3 stories) and set in Eastern Europe. A nobleman while out riding finds a headless corpse with a dagger in his back. He takes the dagger and decides to stay at a remote farmhouse. It is here that he is told of the Wurdalak (a vampire that can only drink the blood of his loved ones). When the father comes home from his search for the vampire things take a turn for the worse which puts the nobleman and the woman at the inn who he has fallen for in mortal danger. Fantastically atmospheric with bold use of colour and lighting this is definitely the best looking of the three tales. Karloff is great as the head of the household and although the story is predictable it is still very creepy.
Black Sabbath was the most altered of all the Bava films released in America. Not only was the order of the stories changed but the tone of the story The Telephone was altered to erase any subtle mention of a lesbian relationship. The music score was also completely different in the US version and done, quite well in my opinion, by Les Baxter. Also i found the English version pleasing because you get to hear Karloff’s real voice and most of the dialog seems to have been spoken in English on set.
The special edition Blu ray release by Arrow has both versions in HD and both look fantastic if slightly different. Images are sharp with no damage noticed, colours are strikingly bold and close ups look great. No excessive sharpening of the image was noticed either. Audio is very good with Italian LPCM 2.0 and English LPCM 2.0. Clear dialog and sound effects are found on both language options.
Extras are another thing that Arrow are known for and here on this 3 disc set you have a few great ones. Firstly on the Blu ray Twice the Fear – an enjoyable and very well done featurette highlighting the differences between Black Sabbath and I tre volti della paura. Extracts from the two films are simultaneously compared via split screen with text explanations. With imposed English subtitles explaining the differences. (33 min).
Also on the Blu ray is another informative audio commentary (on the uncut Italian version) by Bava expert Tim Lucas. He gives in depth explanation of the differences between the two versions and the making of the film.
The other extra’s are on the DVD’s only, which may seem a little strange but if it allows for better bit rates for the two HD versions of the film on the HD disc then i can understand it. First extra on disc 2 is A Life in Film: An Interview with Mark Damon – actor Mark Damon, who plays the nobleman in The Wurdalak, tells of his time in Hollywood, working with European production companies, how he introduced Clint Eastwood to Sergio Leone and his contribution to this film and he talks about director Mario Bava. Also on the dvds Introduction by Alan Jones – a short video introduction to Black Sabbath by journalist and Italian horror expert Alan Jones. Also included are trailers and TV / Radio spots. Also on the retail version you get a 40-page illustrated booklet featuring: “Three Steps to Hell” by David Cairns; “The Two Faces of Black Sabbath” by Tim Lucas; “My Time with Mario Bava” by Samuel Z. Arkoff, interviewed by Tim Lucas; and technical information about the high-definition transfer.
Overall yet another winner from Arrow which should please all fans of Gothic horror and Mario Bava.
FILM: 7 OUT OF 10
VIDEO: 8 OUT OF 10
AUDIO: 7 OUT OF 10
EXTRAS: 8 OUT OF 10