My introduction to Mario Bava came back in 2018, with 1963’s anthological horror film Black Sabbath. Like most things, that might as well be 10 years ago. I’ve since caught up with three more of the Italian horror master’s films: Blood and Black Lace, a primordial and preeminent piece of perversion, subversion, seduction and synesthesia that’s hypnotic to the point of being haptic and in which you can see nearly 60 years worth of films since; Planet of the Vampires, which makes you wonder just how many times Ridley Scott and John Carpenter have also watched it; and Black Sunday, no less groundbreaking in 1960 than Psycho and upended only by a dumb ending in which Satan loses.
Black Sabbath was somewhat underwhelming relative to expectations way back when. I concede the American International Pictures cut available on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray is considered “lesser” to Bava’s Italian cut. International licensing is a wild and woolly concept, and thus, Kino Lorber’s new re-issue of the film — timed to its 60th anniversary — also boasts only the AIP cut.
Largely untouched from an editorial perspective (or so I’ve read), “The Drop of Water” remains the standout here — a masterful Poe pastiche with a perfectly frightening rictus ghoul and a nigh-psychedelic color swirl that preceded Blood and Black Lace. Much respect also for keeping the set so cold you can see the performers’ breath.
Robbed of its subtext, replaced with the supernatural and burdened by a lame jazz score, “The Telephone” just doesn’t make any damn sense and plays like what network TV of the era might have attempted in the giallo realm.
“The Wurdalak,” which rounds things out, has great atmosphere and a merciless mean streak that extends to dogs and children. It also accelerates in power, and Boris Karloff’s physical decrepitude packs a punch. Still, I couldn’t help but think the color timing on the Italian dub (of which I’ve read) could have made it feel more like a desaturated nightmare than a sometimes strangely bright image. Still, there is plenty to recommend among this set for Bava as stylist, and this disc is worth picking up for all those to whom Bava has been a recent discovery.
Extras include trailers for Black Sabbath and a limited-edition slipcase, as well as a commentary from film historian Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. Lucas discusses the film’s production, key differences between the available cuts, extensive notes on Bava’s approach and more.