BLACK SABBATH (Mario Bava, 1963)
SELECTED BY @Ultimo Necro
If it’s the last Halloween Havoc then I’m picking the movie that named the greatest band of all time. A classic horror anthology.
REVIEWED BY @Curt McGirt
I have a long history with this film. First time I saw it probably had to be renting it from local video store Rentertainment, AKA The Best Video Store Ever (RIP). They had an enormous amount of foreign cinema listed by country, and the first time I saw it was in the OG Italian chapter order, so it had to be from there. Every place else, even on TCM, it is in the unfortunate domestic cut to pieces by AIP to eliminate violence and sexual themes, adding cheesy Boris Karloff wraparound intros, and they even replaced not only the title* but both the soundtrack and color processing! To avoid this I went straight to good old Soulseek** and poked around until I found an Italian version with subs. This is the one I am reviewing for you: I tre volti della paura, or The Three Faces of Fear. It's a classic horror anthology by one of the great directors of not only horror (particularly giallo films) but peplum, spaghetti Westerns, fumetti neri, and sex comedies, and one of the best cinematographers ever, Mario Bava. We'll take this by chapter, after a brief start with Karloff saying that vampires and ghosts exist and might be sitting right next to you. Then again those aren't the only threats to your life.
Il Telefono/The Telephone
This first segment is a masterpiece of drawing-room suspense and the first time Bava dipped his toe into the pool of giallo, the Italian term for a genre of slasher thrillers that began with paperbacks known for their yellow ('giallo' in Italian) covers. All the bases are covered here. We have a beautiful woman in distress, black-gloved hands fondling a knife, a mysterious killer, and an unexpected twist. A woman named Rosi walks into her downstairs apartment at the beginning, undresses and showers, then receives a series of phonecalls. At first nobody answers but then the caller reveals himself to be seeing her every move and desiring to kill her. There appears to be no way of seeing her at all until a tiny space in a blind is revealed. Rosi, scared to death, calls her former girlfriend to come and keep her company through this.
Anyway, Bava was known as a master of setpieces and cinematography, and here we have a luxurious looking little apartment with ample lighting that belies the danger present... except for the constant ticking of a loud clock. The sexual themes mentioned above are Rosi having a lesbian lover, and other signs point to her being a former (and possibly current) prostitute. AIP removed those and even added characters and additional scenes to switch this up which is flatly dumb as fuck and offensive to an adult viewer (of whom there were, granted, few at the time for horror in the States). After the twist you can pretty much guess where this one is headed but the result is decidedly effective anyway. I'd give this one a B+ if we rate it like a school project. On to the next.
I Wurdulak/The Wurdulak
Now for something completely different, this is a gothic horror tale of the AIP Corman stripe that has Boris Karloff (again) and a twist on the vampire theme. Mark Damon (of wooden performance in Corman's House of Usher) finds a guy with a dagger in his chest in the mountains of some undisclosed, probably Eastern European country. He drives it to a nearby home and brings it to the owner only to find it has vanished from his horse; meanwhile a dude right there is stabbing a headless guy in the chest with a sword?! The family at the house and the other two talk together and it is revealed that the head of the household went out to kill an evil Turk that was victimizing everyone and if he wasn't back in five days he'd be turned into a Wurdulak, who feasts on the blood of the ones he most loves, and can only be killed by being stabbed into the heart. Karloff appears just after midnight on the fifth day with a stab wound to the chest, a pallid appearance, a forceful demeanor, and probably a thirst for blood.
Again, you can probably guess where things go from there. The story is based on a family afraid of its benefactor and how he insinuates into their lives one by one to poison/kill/usurp them, and it does a bang-up job of it. The story itself is extremely atmospheric and has a feel of damp cold as soon as the "hero" enters the place of the homestead (I dare not say this is a town or even a village -- there is nobody else around besides the neighbor, and we don't even see his house). And the end of it is just mean. As in Pet Semetary mean. No wonder they ended up changing it in the AIP version to Karloff on a bike thus breaking the fourth wall (which is at the end of the film in this version) just to diminish the hit. And possibly the most offensive is that Sam Arkoff and company flipped all the chapters, so Black Sabbath started with the following, had "The Telephone" in the middle, and ended with "The Wurdulak". If it was anything else, I would have said they were right, but there is THIS one to wrap everything up, and it's a doozy.
So we have increased the tempo, basically. Now it's time to visit the final story...
La goccia d'acqua/The Drop of Water
Wow. This one still floors me. It's about a young woman who looks a bit of a floozy and a drinker (and is cute as hell for a blonde -- just my type I suppose) who is called to dress and look over for the night a corpse of a recently deceased elderly woman. Except she has an especially wonderful and expensive looking blue emerald ring on her finger. And has been recently contacting mediums.
Once again, you can put together the pieces. This has the best of Bava's love of color gels, with blue, green, purple, and all the clashes of the other colors of the surroundings merging into one lovely and terrifying collective while light pulses through the windows with pitch black overtaking it immediately. The silence and again, that pulse like the clock ticking from the first segment just magnifies the terror. And the twist at the end is total dead-on EC Comics "fuck you, you knew this was coming HAHAHA" awesomeness. I know I'm not saying a lot this time, but it is probably my stone favorite of any horror anthology segment. It's that good. And the absurdity of AIP STARTING with this instead of ENDING with this is beyond my ability to comprehend.
Anyways, Happy Halloween. Watch this. And just wish for any rings in the upcoming holidays instead of stealing them, trust me.
* This of course wasn't so bad of a thing because it gave a new name to a little band named Earth from Birmingham, England, who walked by the film's poster on the street and marveled that people like to be scared, thus making them decide to change their name to what else: Black Sabbath.
** Go figure, I told my best buddy I had to watch this, he asked for a link and I came up with this immediately. Looks twice as good.