Death By Cinema – 26 – Black Sabbath

“If I must just choose the method of my demise, I choose…


Death By Cinema!” -Britt Rhuart

Day 26 – Black Sabbath

Today, I’ll watch a film by a true horror and exploitation legend, Mario Bava. Bava was Italy’s master movie maker when it came to this genre of films. Not only did he pioneer the Giallo film, he pioneered the slasher film. And here’s the thing… unlike many exploitation directors, Bava had a tremendous reputation as a filmmaker. His use of color is especially talked about, and his films have influenced filmmaker such as Dario Argento, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Bava’s own son Lamberto, himself a horror director.

So, why haven’t I reviewed Bava before? The simple answer is… I really didn’t have any of his movies. This changed last year at Phoenix Comic Con, specifically the Fangoria booth, where a couple was selling their old exploitation DVDs for $5 a pop. So for a grand total of $10, I bought both of the Bava Boxes, a couple of phenomenal sets.

The film I’ll review today, Black Sabbath or I tre volti della paura, is supposed to be one of Bava’s best (though I believe Kill, Baby… Kill might be slightly better reviewed). However, the reason I picked this film is for one reason… Boris Karloff is in it! I love Karloff the Uncanny and will watch him in anything. However, this film today is a double edged sword, because the DVD in the Bava box is only the Italian original. Now, this is preferable from the standpoint that nothing is cut, however I miss out on Karloff’s wonderful voice. So, will I still like it? Let’s find out!

Random Thoughts While Watching the Film:
We open on the wraparound, Boris Karloff introducing the film, which has three stories. Already, I love the use of color from the first shot. I don’t know how I feel though about the guy doing Karloff’s voice. I kind of want him to do a Karloff impression in Italian, but I also don’t want it because it could ruin it. Oh, well, Karloff still mugs for the camera.
Karloff talks about drinking blood and the light on his face goes bright, blood red. Glorious.
Our first story is called The Telephone. Basically, a woman is constantly called on her phone, hearing no voice, at least thus far.
I had no idea Pronto meant Hello in Italian. I thought it meant hurry. Learn something new everyday.
The woman, Rosey, is now being harassed by a name who can clearly see her in a state of undress. He tells her he will kill her as he lusts for her.
So far, the suspense is being built very well. The cinematography is pretty solid, as well.
There’s a really cool shot of the villains eyes just barely peaking through the blinds of this apartment. The eyes remind me of a more creepy Marty Feldman.
The villain is Frank, Rosey’s former pimp, whom she helped send to jail. Rose ends up calling her friend Mary. Mary is very coy about coming over and you get a feeling she and Rosey might have had a relationship.
Oh, Jesus… it wasn’t Frank talking on the phone, it’s Mary doing a deep, husky voice into the phone through a muffled piece of cloth. That is a great reveal!
Mary is really good at being intimidating, yet weirdly comforting the Rosey, as she hasn’t revealed her true nature yet.
Mary proceeds to write Rosey a letter as she sleeps, telling her of what she did and asking for her forgiveness as Mary does love her. But as she writes it, the door quietly opens and a mysterious figure walks it. The silence and cinematography are breathtaking (it’s funny because Frank picks up one of Rosey’s nylons and strangles Mary with it). The way Bava built the suspense leading up to the murder was intense.
Frank walks slowly towards Rosey. Luckily, Mary hide a knife under Rosey’s pillow and she stabs him. Rose then breaks down crying as the phone remains off the hook.
I’ll tell you, the cinematography, the way Bava built suspense, and the sound are all really top notch in this one.
The next story is called The Wurdulak. That’s even the translated title. I looked it up and a Wurdulak is a type of vampire, so I’ll just say vampire from here on out. It’s also based on a story by AK Tolstoy. Karloff is actually in this one.
The story begins with Vladimir finding a headless body with a knife in it’s heart. He then rides to town to find shelter for the evening. I like how there’s no dialogue for the first 5 minutes or so. We only have sound effects and the wind blowing. It reminds me of how we only hear the sound of a clock ticking in the silence of The Telephone.
The lighting and the color is also really unique, with several gel filters over the lights.
In the house, Vladimir falls in love with Sdenka, the daughter of the house, but she will not return his love because her family might be cursed by a wurdulak.
A wurdulak it turns out is a vampire that thirsts most for the blood of those it loved while it was alive. Cool monster. You kill them by stabbing them in the heart.
The image of Gorca (Boris Karloff), slowly walking over the bridge to the house is just haunting. Also, when we first see Gorca’s face, it’s through a quick zoom. Very cool shot.
You know, the guy dubbing Karloff’s voice is actually doing a good job here. I’d still prefer to hear Karloff’s voice, but this is fine.
The firelight playing off Karloff’s facee is so rich with color and looks amazing.
Man, Karloff’s face when he pulls out the severed head… that man was a great actor.
Bava is beginning to have Karloff placed with some solid makeup on his faces, as well as purple colored light. Gives him a real deathly look.
Gorca now takes his young grandchild from his bed, having already bitten and killed another in the house. Gorca riding away with the boy is very intense. He’s wearing a furry hood that makes him look like some crazy, wild beast.
Vladimir convinces Sdenka to come away with him for her own safety, as he knows the wurdulak will come back for her and the rest of her family. I still hate the plot device of someone falling in love with another at first sight, but well, there you go.
Man, the light coming through the trees as Vladimir and Sdenka ride off is so cool. Plus the kid walking towards the parents house from the grave is creepy as hell. Especially because they gave his voice an echo.
So, the rest of her family dies to the wurdulak, but Sdenka and Vladimir drive in an abandoned monastery, fining a place to sleep for the night. Gorca shows up there, along with the rest of the now damned family. When this scene happens we’re met with a lot of color and Bava playing with negative space. They taste of Sdenka and she, in turn, drinks from Vladimir. Her eyes are hypnotic. Thus, the bloody prophecy is fulfilled. But keep in mind, Vladimir also has a family…
The final story is called A Drop of Water. During a large rainstorm, a nurse, Helen, is called to prepare a body for burial and- OH, JESUS! That is one creepy ass corpse.
So the dead woman was a medium who died while in the middle of a trance during a seance. While this is explained, we see a nice crane shot. There are a lot of good zooms in this particular story.
Throughout this whole thing so far, we know Helen is tempted to steal this sapphire ring from the dead woman. It’s a great bit of acting and storytelling. When she steals the ring, she also spills a glass of water, causing an incessant drip and a fly buzzes around. I have a feeling this will be a repeated thing throughout the rest of it.
Dammit, the corpse’s eyes keep opening and it’s one of the creepier this I can remember in a film. It’s giving me the jibblies.
Helen is now home with the stolen ring. I don’t think she’s going to enjoy it much. Sure enough that damn fly is back. I like that the camera goes into her perspective of trying to swat the fly. After the fly is scared off, a dripping sound is heard. Helen turns off all the faucets in her house, but the dripping continues. Great bit of playing with sound design.
This particular feature is all about the use of sound and the acting of the actress playing Helen. Bava still has his touch in the cinematography and directing, but it’s slightly more subtle here, though there’s still a great use of color throughout.
Helen opens the door of her bedroom and finds the body of the medium. We see the woman on the bed, in a rocking chair, and slowly gliding towards her hands outstretched. This honestly has me a bit freaked, but I think it’s the look of the woman. Her eyes never blink and her mouth is open in a rictus, teeth fully bared.
The… ghost?… corpse?… of the woman causes Helen to strangle herself. Damn, that’s a grim end. The ring is also mysteriously gone from her finger. But now her friend hears the dripping and a fly buzzing. She looks at Helen’s face and… Oh, God, now she’s got that rictus look on her face with the wide unblinking eyes. And Bava holds on that damn image. That is creepy as shit! Well, I guess I didn’t need to sleep tonight.
In one final scene, we see Karloff, in the guise of Gorca, saying goodbye and to watch out for vampires and ghosts on the way home. He then asks us to dream of him (sorry, Boris, but my dreams belong to creepy rictus lady tonight) as he “rides off into the distance.” Even though the horse is clearly fake and… they pull out to show to reveal he is on a film set and it’s all fake. I gotta say, that lighthearted ending does not fit at all with the rest of this horrifying film, particularly the closing theme.

Okay, so this was an amazing movie. Seriously, it tells three different stories, but manages to keep the stakes and tension very high. Each one had it’s own feel to it, though each was steeped in terror. The Telephone I think had the best sense of unease and feeling of suspense. The Wurdulak probably told the best story and had the best of all worlds, when it came to the technical aspects and acting. A Drop of Water is one of the creepiest and most terrifying films I’ve seen in a while, and I thought it would be the worst of the bunch. Really, there is no worst of the bunch and there’s no best. They are all marvelous. While each has it’s pluses, all three have some really nice cinematography and the colors, sound design, and level of anxiety are some of the best I can think of in a film in recent memory. See this movie! I’ll definitely check out more Bava soon.

Speaking of directors I said I’ll be watching more, I’m going to watch one more Jess Franco film. I’ve already said, I like early Franco, when he directed in black and white, had great cinematography, and was more subtle in his approach to sex and violence. But tomorrow, I’ll look at a later Franco film, Oasis of the Zombies. Does Franco’s style hold up? Who cares?!? Nazi Zombies tomorrow!

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