It's been several years since I last saw Mario Bava's BLACK SABBATH (1963). I watched it again this afternoon, thanks to TCM's recent Halloween season airing of a slew of classic horror films, many of which I recorded.
SABBATH is comprised of a trilogy of short horror films, all of which are introduced by the late, great Boris Karloff. Karloff even appears in the last and best segment. The format and structure recalls Karloff's hosting of THRILLER on NBC TV but this film is in color and has a slightly more adult approach to horror.
The first entry, THE DROP OF WATER, is adapted from a story by Chekov. It's an atmospheric little ghost story in which a nurse (Jacqueline Peirreux) is called to a large house to prepare a recently deceased woman for burial. The woman dabbled in things unknown and she makes for one helluva creepy corpse while on her death bed. The nurse steals a ring from the dead woman's hand and immediately, things get weird. A fly buzzes on the dead woman's hand and the nurse knocks over a glass of water in fright. When she returns to her flat, he begins to hear strange noises, dripping water from a number of sources and open shutters banging. She's finally confronted by the grotesque dead woman and the nurse chokes herself to death. When the nurse's body is reported to the police by the landlady, the body is missing the ring and the landlady has a worried look on her face. She's guilty and knows that whatever came after the nurse will now come for her. What makes WATER stand out is the cinematography by Ubaldo Terzano and Bava himself. The apartment set is drenched in sickly greens and lurid purples (among other hues), all of which create a weird, unsettling atmosphere. The story is routine but it's handsomely mounted.
THE TELEPHONE finds a beautiful young woman, Rosy (Michele Mercier), terrorized by a series of phone calls. She's in her apartment alone at night when the phone keeps ringing and ringing. When she answers, the male voice on the other end reveals intimate knowledge of her every move and eventually identifies himself as Frank, her recently deceased lover. He's coming to get her and nothing can stop him. Rosy calls Mary (Lydia Alfonsi) to come over for help. Mary gives Rosy a tranquilizer to calm her nerves and while Rosy sleeps, Mary makes plans to take her to a psychiatrist. But a man enters the apartment, strangles Mary and attacks Rosy, who stabs him with a hidden butcher knife. She kills Frank, who has somehow come back from the dead (nicely dressed too) but then the phone rings again (with the received off of the hook) and the voice of Frank speaks, telling Rosy that she can never kill him.
THE WURDULAK, based on a story by Tolstoy, is the best of the three films. In 19th century Russia, Vladimir Durfe (Mark Damon), encounters a strange family haunted by the curse of the Wurdulak, a form of vampirism in which the bloodsuckers only prey on their immediate family and loved ones. He's caught up in a spiral of doom when the father, Gorca (Karloff) returns and proceeds to kill his family one by one. The count and Gorca's lovely daughter Sdenka (Susy Andersen), try to escape by hiding in a cave but Gorca tracks them down and kills Sdenka who in turn, kills the count. THE WURDULAK mixes nice sets with some impressive location work. Karloff is at his sinister best and the segment provides a nice twist on the standard vampire mythos.
An Italian film, BLACK SABBATH underwent several changes besides the standard dubbing job when it was released in the United States by American International Pictures. The Karloff intros were filmed in Los Angeles for one, the running order of the segments was changed, and cuts were made in all three stories. Most importantly, THE TELEPHONE was entirely changed in order to eliminate the fact that Rosy and Mary are both prostitutes who have a lesbian relationship while Frank is their pimp. The Italian version is, of course, the superior and definitive one but the version TCM ran is the American one and thus, it's the one I watched and enjoyed.