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Image Entertainment presents
Black Sabbath (I Tre Volte Della Paura) (1963)

"To stay here, even for one night, could prove fatal, believe me."
- Gregor (Glauco Onorato)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 06, 2000

Stars: Boris Karloff, Michele Mercier, Jacqueline Pierreux
Other Stars: Lydia Alfonsi, Mark Damon, Susy Anderson, Milly Monti, Harriet Medin
Director: Mario Bava

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, gore, partial nudity)
Run Time: 01h:35m:41s
Release Date: August 01, 2000
UPC: 014381594126
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

In the early 1960's, the horror anthology was at a peak; in addition to Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, there was Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff. The movie studios saw that there was profit to be made in the subgenre, especially after the success of 1962's Tales of Terror starring Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone.

AIP studios sought to repeat that success, adding to the mix Karloff himself (as host and actor) and Italian director Mario Bava, who had had a huge hit with the 1960 film Black Sunday. The result was this film, released in the rest of the world as The Three Faces of Fear, in reference to the three unrelated stories contained therein. AIP knew a good title when they saw it, however, and rechristened the film in the US as Black Sabbath, copying the earlier Bava success. Retitling wasn't enough however, for AIP cut, rescored and rearranged significant parts of the film for US audiences.

Image Entertainment, as part of its continuing Mario Bava collection, presents, for the first time in the US, the original, uncut film, with the original score. The complete picture exists only in Italian, so the Italian version is provided here. This has some unfortunate consequences, not the least of which is seeing Boris Karloff speaking with some other voice in a foreign language. Couldn't portions of the English dub, with Karloff's own voice, as well as those of the other non-Italian actors, been included as an alternate track?

The first story, The Telephone concerns a young woman who is being stalked by an unseen person who continually calls her on the phone and threatens her life. This segment comes off far better in the European version; for a change it now makes sense, unlike the AIP version previously available in the US. The lesbian subplot is restored, which helps provide motivations for the characters that previously made little sense at all.

What was the last story in the US version is here the centerpiece: The Wurdulak. Loosely based on a short story by Alexei Tolstoi, this segment features Karloff as old Gorca, the patriarch of a Russian family. Gorca has ventured out into the mountains to slay Alibeq, a Turkish bandit who is also a wurdulak, a type of vampire that feeds on the blood of those he loves best. When Gorca returns after five days in the wilderness, Alibeq is dead....but is Gorca dead—or undead—as well?

The final, and most terrifying, segment is The Drop of Water. Miss Chester (Jacqueline Pierreux) is a nurse who resentfully tends to the body of a medium who died in mid-trance with the dead. Spotting a ring on the corpse's hand, Miss Chester pockets it. However, the medium is not to be so easily robbed, as Miss Chester soon learns to her dismay. The horrible grinning, popeyed visage of the persistent medium is memorable and gruesome indeed. This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.

The film ends with a humorous coda that breaks the fourth wall; this segment has been unseen in the US until now. Concluding with the harrowing The Drop of Water almost demands a little bit of levity to wrap things up.

Black Sabbath is still a quite effective fright feature; the tension in all three episodes is substantial. The original arrangement makes more sense from this standpoint; the first and third segments are set entirely indoors and very claustrophobic. Opposed against this is the wide-open second segment, the openness of which is maximized by a dense fog throughout. Bava was a cinematographer originally, and his use of the camera is bravura, constantly on the move when useful, and tensely static at other times. Other than a severed head, the gore is quite restrained. The overall mood of at three segments is one of paranoia, fear and guilt. And isn't that what a good horror film is all about?

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Overall, the Technicolor image looks quite good. Blacks are strong and colors are quite rich. Bava uses a different color thematically in each segment: the red of the phone in The Telephone, the blue of the fog in The Wurdulak, and the intense and horrific green of The Drop of Water. In each section, the emphasized color comes through cleanly, while the background colors are subdued. The intense red and blue of the opening narration flirts with oversaturation, but is tremendously effective if a little surreal.

The source print is a little disappointing; there are three or four instances of significant damage or dirt, and numerous small speckles throughout the film. The film could have stood a little restoration. However, there are large sections of the print which are virtually flawless. If not for the damage, this would be an 'A' or 'A-' grade.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono sound is adequate throughout. In a few places, the music is a little distorted. The sound effects (particularly the bone-chilling wind effects in The Wurdulak) come through quite nicely. In all, an effective and clear soundtrack. Hiss and noise are practically nonexistent.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
Packaging: Snapper
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Gallery of stills and promotional materials
Extras Review: Tim Lucas (editor of Video Watchdog and Bava historian) gives us another lengthy essay on the production of the film, as he has done with all the other volumes in this Mario Bava series. This essay is besmirched a little by a silly factual error: he claims that the telephone had not yet been invented in 1893, when it had actually been patented back in 1876. That gaffe aside, the essay is quite informative.

A gallery of about 80 stills, lobby cards, posters and pressbook materials are included. Instead of being static, advancing when you want to, each item is shown on the screen for only three seconds. This arrangement is a little irritating, but by no means as bad as the menu design for the biography and filmographies. Bava gets both a bio and a filmography; Karloff merits only a selected filmography. While these are both better than average in content, the menu design is maddening. At each frame of these lengthy extras, the default option is to go back to the features menu; the viewer must push the right button twice in order to advance. This is a ridiculous design that I hope will never be repeated.

Finally, there is an Italian theatrical trailer, which is also subtitled, and presented in 1.78:1 ratio. It is in acceptably good condition.

The subtitles for the film and the trailer are in an easy-to-read yellow. They are optional, if you happen to speak Italian, or want a closer look at the lower portion of the screen.

Since this was only a single layer disc, would it have been that difficult to also present the US cut on a second layer? That would have been useful for comparison purposes, as well as not robbing Karloff of that most recognizable voice.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A classic horror film is given a rather good presentation here. I would have liked to have at least portions of the English track as well, but overall the picture and sound are better than average. A nice selection of extras rounds out the package. Recommended for anyone looking for an old-style scary movie.


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