Horror Bites - Black Sabbath


Ah the old style horror anthology, it's always one of my personal favourites as a structure for the novelty of each chapter and the variety involved. From the '60s to the '80s there are many to choose from. They do tend to vary in scope (and sometimes quality) whether it's something like Creepshow with a lot of stories, or the smaller scale Two Evil Eyes which as the title suggests is split down the middle. The original name here also gives this one away as it's a trilogy of horror tales. They're bookended by a great intro and ending from Boris Karloff, who also features as a character in the second of these.

While many of these often have their hit and miss segments, I struggle to think of any others that quite this inconsistent in terms of plot and pacing. They vary in length... and effectiveness. In this case the first episode is the weak link while part two is an improvement, and the finale is short and sweet.

'The Telephone' starts the show, with a girl alone at night being threatened by a mystery caller, someone from her past who was put behind bars but has since escaped and is now on her trail. The premise alone is pretty threadbare in terms of what could happen but they don't really do anything with it. She just sort of panics and never tries to do save herself. He tells her she can't escape, and she just believes him for some reason. Even when she calls for help from another old acquaintance taking action never crosses her mind.

But her friend also arrives without any problems, so how is she trapped? There's a bit of a twist at the end but this is all strung out for way too long, beyond the limits of a basic suspense plot. This is the one chapter which isn't related to the supernatural, so it's odd that logic and rational behaviour nowhere to be found. There's too much hysteria and not enough problem solving. Luckily for us things get better after this opening.

'The Wurdalak' is the term they're using for vampires here, in a story set on a farm in the Russian countryside. A young prince arrives to find a family being terrorised by a killer. He finds that their father has been out hunting him but has returned looking rather crazy himself. Of course the old man has something to hide after being away for several days, and soon enough things start to get out of hand. The idea of bloodsuckers coming back from the dead solely to claim their own family is pretty sinister, and even the youngest child is not safe.

There's a lot of horror lighting to convey the desolate atmosphere, which works well even if scenes underground or at night are still lit with bright greens and blues. The romantic melodrama amongst characters who have just met earlier that day is really unconvincing, and it's probably the weakest element here. Like the first chapter it feels too long instead of maintaining a sense of dread, but it still fares better just as a horror story. Cutting down some of the dud scenes and perhaps adding some extra chapters might have been a better idea for the sake of variety and brevity. Luckily the closing story doesn't really have this problem.

'The Drop of Water' saves the best until last, as a nurse heads out to help the housekeeper of a medium who has just passed away. Foolishly she tries to steal a ring from the body while preparing it for the funeral, and despite several pretty overt warning signs she keeps it and heads home. That's it. that's the whole story -- the spirit of the deceased woman coming back to get revenge on the thief.

The corpse itself is really bizarre and wild eyed, and all the strange goings which start to drive the nurse crazy are pretty effective. There are no extraneous characters and no threads that feel loose, it gets to the point and delivers what you want; weird visuals and creepy moments. It's memorable and striking, what else do you need from a quality anthology sequence?

Showing us out is a strange and amusing forth wall break from Karloff riding what is clearly a fake horse before he proceeds to break all the illusions. It was just a movie all along. Ultimately this is a mixed bag, but there are enough interesting takes on familiar genres to keep it from being a total slog, particularly once you get past the dull phone stalker section. It's not the greatest compilation out there, but is still worth checking out even if it's just to see which film a certain rock back took their name from. If you just want to watch another Mario Bava film you can do a lot worse.