Anthologies are common in the horror genre, whether two or more directors band together on a project, or whether one director takes on several short stories alone. Usually the result is that at least one of the entries is pretty weak, but the strongest entry makes the film worthwhile. Once in a while, however, you get something like Mario Bava's Black Sabbath, which has three strong entries. Bava's secret is that he was never very strong on plot or story or character; he could direct the hell out of any old script with his astonishing use of colors, mood and atmosphere. The best thing about Black Sabbath -- which the distributor American International Pictures re-titled to cash in on the success of Bava's Black Sunday -- is that it actually does have some good stories. In the first one, "The Telephone," a woman gets a phone call and learns that a dangerous man from her past has been released from jail; the entire story is set in her apartment, and Bava makes you jump each time the phone rings.
The second entry, "The Wurdalak," is the longest and most complex, based on a story by Aleksey Tolstoy. In it, an old man returns after battling the evil title creature, and his family worries that he has been afflicted by a blood curse. The third story, "The Drop of Water," is the shortest and creepiest, about a nurse who steals a ring from a corpse and regrets it. The worst thing about Black Sabbath is that it stars Boris Karloff as both the old man in the "Wurdalak" and as the film's narrator, who appears and introduces the segments. Unfortunately, AIP decided that the film was too violent and chopped it up for American release. Slashfilm features the chopped-up release, complete with Karloff's wonderful, sonorous voice. The uncut version is available now on DVD, but only dubbed into Italian. And so, apparently, there is no definitive version that is both uncut and with the complete Karloff. It's a sad state of affairs for the one-and-only meeting of two horror masters, but that's a small quibble in an otherwise chilling movie.
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