Sunday, April 5, 2009

Black Sabbath/Tre volti della paura, I (1963)

On occasion, I run across a horror movie that actually keeps me on my toes, even spooks me a bit. I watch quite a few horrors, so more often than not I'm just sitting around looking for a good story or an incredible amount of gore. Of the movies that have actually scare the shite out of me, Stephen King's The Shining has always been on the top of the list, and probably will stay there. To this day, I won't ever reproduce just for the fear of having creepy, twin girls. Twins by themselves are creepy, ghost twins downright terrifying...but back to the review. I've been on a bit of Mario Bava kick lately, and last night I decided to watch a couple I've been waiting for, the second being Black Sabbath(1963). Known in Italy as the Three Faces of Fear, it is not one story, but three stories hosted by Boris Karloff who stars in one. All three were good and ran the gambit from spooky to keeping this guy on the edge of his seat. let me run down all the three

The Telephone A suspense thriller that was actually more of a mini-gialli than actual horror movie. After watching this, you can see how much piece-of-dogshit movies like Scream were just idiotic rip-offs of this original. Our main character, Rosy, is prepared to spend a quiet evening at home, But a mysterious voice at the other end of the receiver has different plans. The voice is apparently Rosy's ex-boyfriend who just escaped from prison, and he wants revenge. And according to his voice, Rosy isn't going to make it to see the sun rise. After many harassing phone calls, Rosy calls for the aid of her ex-lover, whom she had threatened never to see again. This women is more than happy to be at Rosy's side in her time of need, but, as with any good gialli, nothing is really as it seems.

I thought I knew what was going down the second I read the title of this first-of-three, so I just tried to sit back and relax, but by the end of The Telephone, I was actaully wishing I hadn't consumed so much caffeine. Bava's use of a ticking clock as background noise throughout is what really kept me anxiously waiting for Rosy's would-be killer. So anxious, in fact, that I actually jumped a little anytime the phone rang, and I've seen this story before. I was also quite surprised over the lesbian subtext that was very apparent. To have such a taboo subject matter in a film from the early sixties was typically verboten, so much in fact that it was actually cut from the AIP release in the Good Ole' U.S. of A. Ain't that a fuckin' surprise?

The Werdulak Boris Karloff stars as a vampire-huntin, family patriarch in this second installment obviously inspired by eastern european folklore. When Gorka(Karloff) leaves his family to hunt down a werdulak, a vampire that only feeds on loved ones, he informs them that if he is not back in 5 das he has probably been turned. In which case he should be slain if he does indeed return. The 5 days do pass, and Gorka returns within a couple of minutes after midnight with the head of the turkish werdulak. His family is unsure of whether to kill the wounded Gorka, or not. But the answer soon becomes clear when Gorka's youngest son is slain a he kidnaps his own grandchild.

I found this story the most surprising of the three, because classic vampire stories are typically more campy than spooky to me. But again, Bava's use of background sound combined with the nightmarish backdrop added a whole new level I have barely found in vampire movies from this era. The family-feeding dynamic is what really made this story move. Seriously, who wants to slay a loved one, especially if it's the man who raised you, or the 3 year-old son who passed who through your loins? Not exactly the easiest decision to make. Sure, it's a fairly common dynamic, but the psychology behind such a situation is hardly ever portrayed as accurately and believably as it is in the Werdulak. Last but not least, it has Boris Fuckin' Karloff. The guy practically invented horror movies, and that should be enough for anybody to own this movie.

The Drop of Water Is the final piece and was the most frightening in my opinion. A nurse is called in the middle of the night to take care of the freshly dead, corpse of her patient, a friendless medium who died in the middle of channeling spirits. The nurse, being a skeptic, believes the old crone was the victim of a hard attack, and in turn has no qualms about thieving from the dead. In this case, a very valuable-looking ring. Upon taking the ring, our untrustworthy friend the nurse is curse by some some terrifying occurrences almost instantaneously, including the sound of dripping water that just won't go way no matter how many hard she tightens the faucet. But the dripping is the least of her problems.

I've harped on enough about Bava's use of sound in the first two features, and it's apparent within the title that the same could be said for his final installment. I always find ghost stories to be the genre with the most consistency of keeping me anxiously entertained. I actually jumped a couple of times. A ghost story was the perfect way to end this movie, especially one directed so well. I could harp on like a fanboy about how amazing Bava's direction and camerawork is, but it's been said before and anybody who has seen his movies would agree.

Although I haven't experienced even half of Bava's body of work, movies like this leave me craving for more. As far has italian directors go, I find Bava's movies to be the most consistent. Argento and Fulci have both put out some gems, but I find those two directors to be slightly overrated and definitely inconsistent. Thankfully I was able to view the italian copy of this movie, considering I hear the AIP's copy is edited, and that just seems wrong to me.

If your a fan of Italian horror,classic horror, giallo or just horror in general, you are really missing an important part of your life by not watching this movie. This is one of the best movies I've seen in the past couple of weeks, and despite the amount of films I watch a year, will always be remembered.


  1. The only regrettable thing about the Italian version is not being able to hear Karloff's voice in the intro and exit segments. Otherwise, this film is gold.

  2. I agree, but I would hate to miss the lesbian innuendo.

  3. It's been awhile since I've seen this film, but I loved it.