Mario Bava’s anthology Black Sabbath consists of three quite different tales of horror. The Telephone - the story of a woman who may or may not be receiving sinister phone calls from an escaped lunatic; The Wurdalak – a creepy yarn involving vampirism, a doomed family and the recent return of their undead patriarch – played with diabolical glee by Boris Karloff; and finally, The Drop of Water – the supremely unsettling story of a nurse who steals a ring from the deathbed of a medium, only to suffer the ghastly consequences in the privacy of her own home.
Each segment of Black Sabbath has its own unique tone and look, from the kitsch glamour of the imperilled woman in The Telephone to the high gothic atmospherics of The Wurdalak and the opulently stylised The Drop of Water. As a whole the film is rather satisfactory and none of the segments outstay their welcome. What makes it all even more appealing is the introduction by none other than Boris Karloff himself, waxing lyrical on the mechanics of fear. Each segment contains its own fair share of nightmare-inducing moments, all beautifully captured by Bava’s ever prowling camera, and rendered dreamlike in the vivid lighting. However it is during The Drop of Water that one of the creepiest images from Bava’s seductive body of work, and possibly from horror cinema, is luridly revealed.
When she is called late at night and asked to prepare the recently deceased body of a local medium, Helen leaves the relative cosiness of a night in, crocheting and sipping brandy (a kindred spirit, obviously), to embark on her journey. Arriving at the dead woman’s house she is let in by a maid and makes her way through the opulently candy-coloured and cat strewn hallways to the bedroom of the medium. We are as shocked as Helen is to see the morbidly grinning death-face of the medium as she lies propped up on her pillows.
Going about her business, Helen notices an ornate ring that she decides no one will miss, and she takes it from the dead woman’s finger.
Returning home, Helen is plagued by the sounds of a dripping tap and the memory of the ghoulishly grinning dead woman. Eventually, her nerves in tatters, Helen realises, too late, that stealing from the dead is just not cool. Seeking sanctuary in her bedroom she sees the spectre of the medium grinning from the bed and then rise up to float menacingly across the room towards her. This all proves too much for Helen who instantly drops dead of fright. When her body is discovered the look of horror on her face still remains… Chilling stuff.