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Review: Black Sabbath

Logged on to Kanopy to watch Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath, an anthology film that offers up three very different (but equally delectable) flavors of horror—the fear of betrayal, the fear of the supernatural, and the fear of one’s own sinful nature.

As always, the director’s visual style is sublime, the perfect blend of old school, Hollywood-inspired Italian cinema (owing an especially large debt to the work of Alfred Hitchcock) and the excesses of the Argento era. His framing, editing, and camera movements are elegant in their simplicity, while the impressionistic green and purple lighting lends the compositions an eerie, surreal atmosphere. The narratives of the three stories unfold in a similar fashion, finding psychological complexity in even the most straightforward of premises; the first vignette is particularly excellent in this regard, spinning the cliche of a woman receiving a series of threatening phone calls into an unpredictable roller coaster ride.

And tying it all together is Boris Karloff’s narrator, hamming it up like a carnival barker inviting the viewer to step right up and brave the haunted house; his presence tempers the suspense with some surprisingly self-aware humor, reminding the audience that laughter is sometimes the most natural response to being scared.

[Originally written April 16, 2018.]

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