In 1963, Boris Karloff would have some of the most fun on a movie set in the later part of his career with the film Black Sabbath. Karloff was under contract to American International Pictures and was eager to work with director Mario Bava. Black Sunday was a marvelous film and Karloff loved the visual aspects of Bava’s films along with his subtle nature towards horror. Black Sabbath was an anthology of three tales with Karloff starring in “The Wurdalak” segment.
The original Italian version and the American version do have some big differences. The order of the three tales is different depending on which version you watch. In the Italian version, “The Telephone” story comes first followed by “The Wurdalak” and then, finally, “The Drop of Water”. However, in the American version, “The Drop of Water” comes first followed by “The Telephone” and, saving Karloff for last, “The Wurdalak”. This is clearly to capitalize on Karloff’s star status in the United States, clearly evident from the trailer.
Unfortunately, the stories themselves also had edits made. In the American version of “The Telephone”, all elements of lesbianism are removed as well as the character of Frank being rewritten from his original role of a pimp. “The Wurdalak” had some alternate shots and certain violent scenes trimmed down but “The Drop of Water” was essentially unchanged. The soundtrack is completely different with the original music of Roberto Nicolosi replaced with that of Lex Baxter. Finally, the film visually looks different due to different color processing for each of the prints.
Most notably, the big difference is the role that Boris Karloff has in each film. He filmed segments that used him as a narrator or host, introducing each of the stories, much like he had done a few years earlier on his television series Thriller. However, these segments were cut from the Italian version. Only a version of the opening monologue remains and the movie ends with Karloff (as Gorca) riding an obviously fake horse serving up a bizarre epilogue that has the camera pulling back to reveal the sound stage and crew. The American version has a different opening monologue and the individual introductions without the bizarre Italian ending. Luckily, the print I have in my collection is the American print so not only do I get more Karloff, I also get to hear his real voice. A Blu-ray was to have been released this month but was canceled due to rights issues. Supposedly, some prints are out there but be prepared to pay top dollar.
Karloff’s segment has him playing a vampire for the only time in his career. Set in 19th century Russia, Gorca (Boris Karloff) has left his family to fight a vampire, known here as a wurdalak, only to return with a mean disposition and looking disheveled. The tale that follows has Gorca feeding off his family one by one in rather gruesome manner. It would be great to see the original and unedited version. While it is available, I’ve not yet seen it as I’m not sure I would enjoy seeing Karloff as much without hearing his voice. However, his dialogue here is limited so I just might have to put the Italian version on the list.
On a fun side note, the rock group Black Sabbath got the name for their band from this film. As the legend goes, when they were still known as Earth, they were playing across the street from a movie theater that was playing Black Sabbath. They decided that people would pay more money to be frightened and thus, they changed their name. The rest is rock and roll history.
I really had fun with Karloff in Black Sabbath. His role as host was a throwback to his days on The Veil or Thriller while it was great seeing him as a vampire. “The Drop of water” segment was creepy but “The Telephone” fell a little flat. Personal preference I guess. It is going to be tricky for you to find the American version on DVD. The Italian print is readily available on various sets and while the American version appears to be available based on website descriptions, it is usually the Italian print. So, buyer beware and prepare to do some hunting.