I want to make out with Mario Bava's Black Sabbath. I want Black Sabbath to like me in that sort of desperate way, the way you feel when you're smitten with someone who's so much cooler than you are, someone who's prettier and has an accent and manages to command a room by simply walking into it. Mmm, Black Sabbath. I tre volti della paura. The Three Faces of Fear. Whatever you call it, this 1963 movie has style and atmosphere and it's an anthology and yes, an accent...so what's not to love? Nothin', that's what! There, now that that's settled...
Bava does away with any attempt at a typical lame framing narrative by simply having star Boris Karloff stand in front of a candy-colored screen and let us know that...well, that we're going to watch a movie. It will be a journey into the supernatural, we'll be scared, etc etc. It's all rather trippy and mood-setting, but it's a bit of a bummer that Karloff's wonderful voice is dubbed over in Italian. Still, it's good that we don't waste any time before getting down to business.
THE TELEPHONEPreceding Black Christmas, When a Stranger Calls, Scream, and all the other great terror-on- the-telephone flicks, this segment features Rosy (Michele Mercier), a young woman who comes home one fine evening and immediately receives a series of threatening phone calls.
As the calls coincide with the prison escape of her violent ex-boyfriend, she's rightfully anxious about the whole "You're gonna die tonight!" thing. To ease her mind, Rosy calls Mary (Lidia Alfonsi) and asks her to come over. It turns out that Mary is another of Rosy's exes, and she may also have nefarious plans for Mary...
Mua ha ha! There are several twists and turns in The Telephone, and it all zips by like one of those summer breezes that makes you feel fine. There's a minimal amount of dialogue, the action is confined to a single set, and it's pure tension barfed up on screen. We all know that tension is best when it's barfed up, so it goes without saying that The Telephone is a success. Before the premise overstays its welcome, we're whisked away to the magical land of...
A family, living way out in the woodsy middle of nowhere, awaits the return of their patriarch Gorca (Boris Karloff), anxious that he may have succumbed to the curse of the wurdulak, a type of vampire who craves the blood of its loved ones. When Gorca finally arrives (bearing the head of an eeeevil cursed Turk), it's difficult for everyone to discern whether or not he's been transformed...what's not difficult to discern, however, is that Gorca alarmingly resembles something a cat would cough up.
So begins a long night of waiting and suspecting- who, if anyone, has become a wurdulak? Wouldn't you like to be a wurdulak, too? Again, Bava employs minimal yap yap; there are lengthy passages, silent save for a constant wind, throughout the segment that create a feeling of creeping dread. When these periods of quiet are broken by the sound of a dog howling or, even more frighteningly, the pleas of a child thought dead, the effect is startling.
Bava truly captures the feel of a gothic fairytale in The Wurdulak; the colors and the artifice of the sets (interspersed with real outdoor locations) make it play out like a Hammer film by way of Dario Argento. The pace may be slow, but the visuals are scrumptious. It's tempting to simply post the entire segment frame by frame, but that would perhaps imply some sort of mania on my behalf, so here are a mere few of my favorites.
The first two stories in Black Sabbath may leave you riding high, but it only gets better: Bava saves the best for last.
A nurse is called to the home of a recently-deceased countess; the body needs to be dressed and the resident housekeeper is way too skeezed out to do it. And who can blame her? If I walked into that bedroom and was confronted by this visage:
...I'd probably just go squat in a corner and cry.
It seems that the reclusive countess was heavy into séances and the like, trying for whatever reason to make contact with the spirit world. The local populace believes that it was this tinkering with ghosts that killed her, not the reported heart attack.
Nursie doesn't buy into the mumbo jumbo and quickly does her duty, pausing only to swipe a ring off the corpse's finger. As you may have guessed, this is a big karmic no-no. The countess doesn't look kindly on this from her perch in the afterlife, and the nurse (who I kept pretending was actually somehow Diana Scarwid) soon learns that pre-grave robbing is not a good idea. In a word*, The Drop of Water is hair-raisingly creepy, outright terrifying, and more than worth your ticket price to Black Sabbath.
In a bizarre, brief, 4th wall-breaking outro, Karloff lets us know that he hopes we enjoyed our journey into the supernatural. Yes, Boris, I truly did. Black Sabbath is a true Creep Show, all old school storytelling and oodles of atmosphere. I like it so very much...I just hope it likes me back.
*may be more than one word
By the way, I'm counting this film towards Category 1 in Operation: 101010!
Film Club Coolies, y'all!
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In One Ear...
The House of Sparrows
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