Quick Thoughts: Black Sabbath (1963)
Three stories. One about a spirit-zombie thing. One about a ghost and a phone. One about a bunch of vampires.
Black Sabbath is a conflicting film. Some parts are pretty good, other parts are pretty awful. Ultimately, however, I just found this film to be boring – frustrating even – for the most part. This may be down to the plethora of production issues with late script changes, dubbings, angles toward differing markets and studio fuckery. Nonetheless, everything around character in this film is mind-numbingly ill-conceived. All character decisions, all dialogue, all of the acting – all dog shit. The sound design is undeniably the worst thing about this movie, however. I’ve mentioned the dubbing, but… Jesus… I cannot think of a worse example of sound design. Not only is it incredibly cheap, but the acting is awful – and the shit the voice actors are made to spew… fuck me. However, there’d be no point in really talking about this film if there wasn’t something more to be said.
So, coming to the positives, Bava’s direction is intermittently interesting – as is the structuring of the script. The best story, by far, is then ‘The Drop Of Water’. This short follows a woman who decides to steal the ring of a dead woman. However, the spirit of the robbed deceased clings to her, finding its way into her home where she decides to turn a whole bunch of taps on – just so they drip – all before showing up and frightening the woman to death, literally. What makes this scene so great is simply the way in which it sets up its jump scares.
Ask almost anyone who critiques or talks about film and they’ll probably tell you that jump scares are the cancer of modern horror. And I agree to a certain extent. I certainly think that jump scares are often over-used and applied very poorly with no justifying set up – what’s more, jump scares are usually false scares, which is pretty frustrating. That said, I certainly think that there a debate to be had (that we won’t go into right now) on the philosophy of the jump scare. Nonetheless, a good example of how to use the jump scare can be found in the ‘Drop Of Water’ sequence of Black Sabbath.
Bava, with a little help from Frankenstein’s Monster himself, Boris Karloff, warns us of and implies the horror of this short. We are then essentially told that “your about to be scared” as Karloff introduces. And even though it’s cheesy, this a great technique as, after all, the scariest things in life have a warning, a ‘viewer discretion advised’, a rating or a mystique and danger about them that acts as a skin you must press through before being allowed to see this allegedly scary content. Karloff’s introductions do this brilliantly, and if I were a 5 year old, I’m sure this film would scare the shit out of me. Unfortunately, I’m not a 5 year old and so was hoping for some tense cinematic language. And this is certainly what you get for about 15 minutes. Bava essentially has us wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… and…
… and wait… with a building tremolo of dripping taps, fear, anxiety then–
… yeah, pretty low budget special effects, but it works pretty effectively. So, if you like horror films, if you want to write a horror script or direct a horror movie, maybe check out this sequence in Black Sabbath to see a good example of how to earn a jump scare.
Beyond that, have you seen Black Sabbath? What are your thoughts?
The Lion King – The Art Of Self-Referentialism & The Hyperbole
The House Of Ghosts/Outer Space – Physical-Interactive Cinema: The Philosophy Of The Jump Scare & How It May Evolve
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