303) Black Sabbath (1963) Dir: Mario Bava and Salvatore Billitteri Date Released: May 1964 Date Seen: September 20, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5
Black Sabbath strikes me as Mario Bava's fittingly lurid homage to the seminal short-lived horror comics, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Both of Educational/Entertaining Comics' most memorable titles were omnibus collections of screwy O. Henry stories with a pervasive macabre sense of humor which many primarily remember for their ghoulish narrators. Alas, because the framing structure in Black Sabbath is marginalized to the point where its just a vestigial bookend before and after the film's segments, Bava and his two co-writers skimp on what made the original comics so iconic.
What they do retain from the original comics' in spades however, unlike the two Amicus adaptations of the 70s, either of the two Creepshow films or the HBO TV series and its spin-offs, is a fixation with the emotional torment and disintegration of its protagonists. Though the comics are remembered for being notoriously gory--the much publicized final nail in "Horror Comics" coffin was delivered during the 1954 Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Deliquency when a prosecutor brandished an issue of Crime Suspenstories featuring a cover of a man with a hatchet in one hand and his wife's severed head in the other--they were more interested in beads of sweat and dilated pupils than in gallons of blood and heaps of guts. Often the road to the protagonist's complete, and completely just, demise is belabored to the point of campiness but that's because the build-up is always more important than the final moral kiss-off it sets up.
This suits Bava's funhouse style of horror, replete with colored lighting tricks and gothic set pieces that make Dario Argento look like a piker, perfectly. The endings to both "The Telephone" and "Drops of Water" are totally eclipsed by their meticulously focused and expertly surreal atmosphere. Though neither of them is as good as "The Wurdalak," which has a climax worthy of its rising action, all three shorts are more than creepy enough to merit their canonical status.