Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

I tre volti della paura (1963)

... aka: Black Sabbath
... aka: Les trois visages de la peur
... aka: Three Faces of Fear, The
... aka: Three Faces of Terror, The

Directed by:
Mario Bava

Originally titled I tre volti della paura ("The Three Faces of Fear"), this three-part horror anthology first made it to the U.S. under the new title of Black Sabbath to remind viewers of how good director Bava's BLACK SUNDAY (1960) was. There were numerous other changes made in the English-language version prepped by distributors A.I.P., as well. It gained an excellent Les Baxter soundtrack (replacing the one done by Roberto Nicolosi for the Italian release), some of the hosting segments featuring star Boris Karloff were removed, the tales were reversed in order and some implied lesbianism and violence were omitted, but that's good ole' American censorship for you (both have since been restored for the Anchor Bay and Image DVD releases, anyway). In any case, this anthology is a minor classic of its kind and is a must see for anyone interested in the development of Italian horror. I'm listing the stories in the order they appear in the original version of the film instead of the way they first showed up in America.

The first tale, based on the F.G. Snyder story "The Telephone," involves a beautiful young woman named Rosy (sexy Michèle Mercier) who is stalked inside her apartment - starting with unsettling telephone calls - by a madman who may have just escaped from a mental institution. The least interesting of the segments, both visually and thematically, this is still sometimes admired for being an early example of the giallo (it was released about seven months before Bava's establishing giallo Blood and Black Lace and is also considered the first Italian thriller to be shot in color). However, the conventional plotting and predictability of it all bogs this short down a little bit. With Lidia Alfonsi (involved in the thinly-veiled lesbian subtext removed from original U.S. prints) and Milo Quesada.

The middle segment, "The Wurulak" (based on the Aleksei Tolstoy novelette "Sem'ya vurdalaka") is an incredibly atmospheric tale with outstanding art direction, photography, lighting and costumes that flavorfully brings us into an eerie Gothic period setting and stars an intense Karloff as Gorca, patriarch of a large family who is turned into a vampire by the curse of the Wurdulak. He returns to his home and proceeds to turn each member of his family, one by one, into the walking dead. Mark Damon (previously seen in Corman's The House of Usher) plays the handsome hero, who falls in love with the lovely daughter Sdenka (Susy Anderson) and tires to save her. All around, beautifully done. Also with Massimo Righi.

The final segment, "A Drop of Water," is based on a story by Ivan Checkov and is generally regarded as the scariest of all the stories. It certainly has the creepiest central image of any of them - an outstandingly hideous and truly freaky-looking corpse! Jacqueline Pierreux stars as Helen, a n unethical nurse who gets her just desserts after stealing the ring right of the finger of a deceased, wealthy old lady. To Helen's unexpected horror, the ghostly stiff comes back looking for revenge. Again, the extremely vivid use of color here is pretty stunning, and a particularly novel use of sound is made in this segment, as well. Also with Gustavo De Nardo as a police inspector and Harriet Medin as a neighbor.

So despite the slight misstep at the very beginning, the two later tales are colorfully, creatively done and drenched in Bava's trademark rich style. It was released on laserdisc (by Image) as a dual feature along with Bava's Black Sunday, which seems to be high on the list of must haves for Bava collectors. Supposedly, in 1968, a struggling heavy metal group called Earth decided to change their name to Black Sabbath when they noticed there were more people in line to see this movie than were attending one of their concerts!

★★★

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