Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Quentin Tarantino are not three names that you’d expect to be linked together. Of course, the two former names were a part of the heavy metal revolution as they provided the creative spark within the band Black Sabbath. Between them, they would not only launch their own career but influence thousands of artists to follow. An equally influential member of his own field, Quentin Tarantino’s unadulterated artistic vision provided a similar blueprint for future filmmakers to peruse and propel into their own work.
Their creative drive and refusal to abide by the predetermined cultural rules may well link Black Sabbath and Tarantino, but there’s also a keener connection. Boris Karloff is an actor that deserves far more praise than he receives. One of the original horror legends was his film Black Sabbath, which would inspire Geezer Butler to write a signature song for the soon-to-be-named Sabbath and infiltrate Tarantino’s vision of seminal film Pulp Fiction.
That’s right, Tarantino and the band are connected by Karloff’s horror anthology picture Black Sabbath from 1963. Directed by Mario Bava, the film was split into three stories for which Karloff starred in The Wurdulak, featuring an undead creature who attacks those it had once loved. Despite having the names of Anton Chekov and Aleksi Tolstoy attached to the script (though largely unverified), the film performed badly in Europe and even worse in America. However, the dark and mysterious apparitions in the film were enough to inspire Black Sabbath’s own Geezer Butler into penning a signature song.
Geezer Butler tells Rolling Stone of how they came up with the name: “I woke up in a dream world and there was this black thing, staring at me. It just lasted a second, but it freaked me out. I told Ozzy, Tony and Bill about it – it was pretty scary at the time. I think that’s what inspired Ozzy to come up with the lyrics that open the song: ‘What is this thing that stands before me?’”
Osbourne remembered the moment well and claimed: “When I sang that song, the line just came out of nowhere. It was born, not written.” It continues with the somewhat strange story of the song, noted as one of Butler’s final visions: “As a child, I always had a lot of psychic experiences. That was one of the very last ones I had. That was before I did drugs – maybe doing drugs killed that part of my brain.” The band liked the song so much that they adopted the title as their new name, ditching their previously held Earth moniker.
Karloff’s role as Gorca in the film is enough to push anyone toward feelings of hysteria. The performance is so perfect that it’s a marvel the film performed so badly at the box office. However, the film did inspire Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino when they sat down to pen the script for Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s sophomore feature film, following the release of Reservoir Dogs. Like Bava before him, Tarantino originally wanted to create a movie that contained three short films.
Each one would be directed by a separate director, with Avary, Tarantino and an unnamed contributor noted as the filmmakers behind each piece. Tarantino neatly summarised his vision of Pulp Fiction by saying: “What Mario Bava did with the horror film in Black Sabbath, I was gonna do with the crime film.”
In many ways, he achieved such a feat. While there’s no clear distinction between the storylines at hand, Tarantino did manage to include a few different narratives within the film, each one with its own morals and values. It was Bava’s film, Black Sabbath, that initially inspired this renewed intrigue in a tapestry of stories.
There we have it, two inspirational figures, as influential and important as any pop-culture touchstones, Black Sabbath and Quentin Tarantino, are purely connected by one Mario Bava film from 1963. A film that deserves to be revisited.