Black Sabbath

Forget Batali. The real Molto Maria is Bava and Black Sabbath sees him in fine, if uneven form.

Depending on which version you see, this anthology starts with The Drop of Water, then segues into The Telephone, and then ends with The Wurdalak. [and please check out our podcast discussion of Black Sabbath]

The strongest of the bunch is The Drop of Water. Set in pre-WWI London, cranky Nurse Helen (Jacqueline Pierreux) is summoned to prepare the body of an old medium for burial. What’s with the Italians and those crazy mediums? (media?) Recall the ominous warnings from the blind soothsayer with the dog in The Beyond? Or, the spiritualist who looks like Margaret Atwood in City of the Living Dead?

As Nurse Helen dresses the body, she spots a sapphire ring on its finger. Chester wrests it from the deceased, accidentally tipping over a glass of water which drips on the floor. The Drop of Water is a master class in sense-awareness. There’s the drip drip of water, the constant flashes of light through an oval window, and of course, the tactility of a gruesome fly which torments the thief from beyond the grave.

****1/2 (out of 5)

In The Telephone, a French call-girl Rosy (Michèle Mercier), returns to her Spartan basement apartment and starts to receive a series of odd phone calls. The caller eventually identifies himself as Frank, her former pimp who escaped from prison but who she believes has been dead for months. Questioning her sanity, a terrified Rosy phones her friend Mary (Lydia Alfonsi) for help.

*** (out of 5)

In The Wurdalak, set in pre-Russian revolution, young nobleman Vladimir (Mark Damon) finds a body by the riverside, a knife plunged into its midsection. He takes the dagger with him, and finds shelter in the owner’s house. He explains that the knife belonged to his father. They await the return of The Gorca (Boris Karloff) who has gone to fight The Wurdalak, a vampiric creature that only feasts on the blood of loved ones.

***1/2 (out of 5)


Spider Baby

spiderbabyposterA cheeky exploration of in/out-group dynamics, Spider Baby takes us into the decrepit Los Angeles estate of the Merrye family descendants, sterile genetic defectives suffering from a condition that makes them revert to atavistic, cannibal behavior.

This includes offing the poor local postie, slicing him to bits after trapping him in a web, but not before he’s made his final delivery: a legal disposition regarding a deed to the house.

It appears some distant relatives, siblings Emily and Peter, have designs on the Merrye estate and their sleazy lawyer, Schlocker, is trying to snare it for them, before they’re all ensnared.

And the legal case against their cousins, the home’s occupants, appears simple: they’re gown-clad stab-happy simpletons Elizabeth and Victoria, home-schooled teens with under-developed social skills who should be Wards of the State. They’re the girls the poster refers to who combine the “seductive innocence of Lolita” with the “savage hunger of a Black Widow.” Then there’s the bald mute pervert of a manservant (the wonderful Sid Haig), who travels about the house via dumbwaiter. And they’re all under the care of a mild-mannered chauffeur, Bruno, the incomparable Lon Chaney Jr.

Emily and Peter, their lawyer, and his assistant, are welcomed into the family home, a creepy creaky taxidermy abode, that has some of them looking for other accommodations.

spider_baby_stillIt’s a terrific setup, from the haunted house thunder narration of cousin Peter, to the wonderful introduction of Chaney driving a lumbering dark Duesenberg. 

Talky, shadowy and effortlessly charming, Spider Baby also happens to feature one of the better dining scenes in all horror, save for perhaps Dead Alive or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre — but pretty great nonetheless — showcasing the family’s…how shall we put it? Unorthodox eating habits…

But ultimately, the film, shot in 1964, also showcases the versatility of writer/director Jack Hill, who’s also given us Death Ship, as well as some women-in-prison/blaxploitation 70s stalwarts like Coffy and The Big Doll House. The Hill/Sid Haig commentary is highly recommended.

***1/2 (out of 5)