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Blu-Ray Review: Kino Lorber’s Black Sabbath (KL Studio Classics) 

Black Sabbath

Mario Bava’s classic horror anthology Black Sabbath starring Boris Karloff is a technicolor marvel of chills and frights!  New from Kino Lorber on Blu-ray.  

The Film 

Black Sabbath is the kind of film that’s all style.  That isn’t a bad thing.  What is often missed about Bava is just how much of a master at visual storytelling he is.  Often many just discuss the style but never talk about how even without dialog films like Black Sabbath would still work as well, if not better, than they do with dialog.  

Divided into three stories, The Drop of WaterThe Telephone, and The Wurdulak are all effective examples of tension and horror.  Though, the best of the films is the longest and last entry The Wurdulak an Eastern European story of a vampirism infecting a family and their attempts to rid it.  The Wurdulak greatly benefits from having Boris Karloff in the role of the family’s patriarch Gorac.  The film and Bava seem to have inspired Karloff’s performance as it is one-part Uncle Vanya and two-part Rasputin divided by Max Shrek’s Nosferatu/Count Orloff.  There is a nihilistic outlook that feels like the very best of Bava during this era in The Wurdulak, a cruelty that’s as banal as the inevitability of death that undercuts any of the melodramatic aspects of the short.    

The Drop of Water and The Telephone are no lesser entries.  They are, in fact, some of the best short-form horror subjects of the era.  There’s a beauty and transfixing visual style like both a waking dream and nightmare.  The Drop of Water a Dickensian-era tale of a seamstress taking advantage of a situation to devastating effect.  The Telephone is a modern tale of a young woman of her own means being haunted by a man she thought dead via the telephone.  Though each section is wildly different in most respects each shares the visual acumen of Bava.  The Drop of Water and The Telephone are more experiments in style that successfully land their horror-based stories than the literary adaptations Bava poses them to be.  

Black Sabbath isn’t just essential viewing.  It’s a thrilling bit of pop-colored vicious horror anthology that any modern audience member will delight in.    

Note: the film being reviewed is the AIP/English Language version of the film.

The Transfer

Kino Lorber’s been provided a wonderful transfer of the AIP version of Black Sabbath.  Unknown if this is a previous, older transfer, or a new one (no notes were provided).  The film looks stunning on Blu-ray.  The transfer is lush and filled with the vivid almost hallucinatory color and lighting that marks Bava’s work.  The image is sharp without sacrificing the grain structure or creating any sort of digital artifacting.  The result is an image that is representative of the 35mm origins of the film.  

The Extras

They include the following;

  • Audio Commentary by Novelist and Critic Tim Lucas
  • Theatrical Trailer

The Audio Commentary by Novelist and Critic Tim Lucas who literally wrote the book on Mario Bava begins with the differences between the Italian version and the AIP/English language version.  Some of the details include details about AIP’s ventures into Italian films; who directed the Karloff introductions to each of the films – and the various tricks they used to create them; Bava’s directorial style and visuals that he creates; the various crew members that worked on Black Sabbath – like Giorgio Giovannini and Riccardo Domenici; the production schedule and why they were longer than AIP (who partnered with the Italian producers) was accustomed to – and the reasons why; Bava’s use of the new widescreen format (the 1.85:1 that was called at the time “the poor man’s VistaVision” – and his use of this format throughout his career; the troubles Bava had with AIP on “The Phone Call”; how this film inspired Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction; Bava wanting to film in the south of Italy for “The Wurdulak”; the origins of the story for “The Wurdulak”; the work of Boris Karloff’s performance as Groca in “The Wurdulak” – the only of the stories that he stars in; a larger discussion throughout about the various “source material” Bava used for the three film; a discussion of the various actors and crew members that’s worked on this film and accounts of their careers; the changes made by AIP throughout of the Italian version; and much more.  Lucas’ commentary track is exactly what you expect from the man who wrote the book on Bava – a detailed informative commentary track that’s more akin to a masterclass.  

Rounding out the Special Features are trailers for Black Sabbath (2:23); Planet of the Vampires (2:15); The Crimson Cult [Curse of the Crimson Altar] (2:45); The Raven (2:29); The Comedy of Terrors (2:33); The Blood Beast of Terror(2:26) 

The Final Thought 

Black Sabbath is one of many Mario Bava’s masterworks.  Kino has given it the best push forward with a beautiful transfer and commentary track by Bava Expert Tim Lucas.   Highest Recommendations! 

Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray edition of Black Sabbath is out now

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