Well, one good Mario Bava film deserves another seeing as I have a habit of getting into modes where one thing makes me think of another. In our last discussion I chatted about one of Mario Bava’s most famous horrors, Black Sunday. After the huge success of the film, American International Pictures asked Bava for another picture that would be similar in tone. The big difference is that this movie would be shot in colour which would allow Bava to work to all of his strengths, artistically speaking.
Released in 1963 in Italy under the title I Tre volti della paura, or “The Three Faces of Fear,” and then in 1964 to American audiences under the more familiar, Black Sabbath, the film would take the approach of an anthology. Three separate stories framed under the introduction of Boris Karloff. Karloff was a nice feather in the Cap for Bava and it remains one of his best performances towards the end of his career.
Each one of the stories is a different flavour of horror, the first of which is called The Telephone and it stars Michele Mercier. Mercier plays Rosy, a woman who starts to get a series of strange and threatening calls (somewhat akin to Black Christmas although a lot less vulgar). Rosy is at her wits end when it’s revealed the person calling is her ex-pimp Frank who has escaped prison. Instead of calling the police, for some reason she calls her ex-lover Mary (the details of them being a former couple are downplayed through editing and re-dubbing of the English version, however). There really isn’t much more to say about the plot without giving away the twist ending, but overall it’s decent. In my opinion, I consider it the worst of the three stories.
The second tale is the longest and has the benefit of starring Boris Karloff. It’s called The Wurdalak (Vampire) and the story takes place in 19th century Russia where a young man named Vladimir (Mark Damon) comes across the body of a man who has be decapitated and impaled through the heart, and for some reason takes the knife as a souvenir (what is it about people robbing graves and bodies in Bava movies?).
Later he comes across a family in a rural cottage who just so happen to know who the owner of the knife is. It’s their father, Gorcha, (Karloff) who shortly returns. Karloff is great in the role of an angry old man who’s been cursed by the vampire. The rest of the story plays out with him systemically stalking his family and turning them into vampires. The most frustrating thing is how senseless some of the characters are. I guess it could be argued that if it was your own family you might not want to believe they can’t be saved, but man, it pretty much ends up where you’d expect.
Of all the stories this one seems the most fleshed out and has the added benefit of Karloff in a juicy role that he clearly had a lot of fun with. This is easily the best story out of the three.
The final story is called The Drop of Water and stars Jacqueline Pierreux. She plays a nurse that is sent to prepare the corpse of an elderly woman and, while she is prepping the body, she notices that the old woman is wearing a sapphire ring. When nobody is looking, she takes it for herself. She doesn’t need it, right? She finds out that in life the old woman was a medium and no sooner does she take the ring that weird stuff starts happening. The freakiest thing in this entire story is the makeup on the old woman’s face. Well, it really looks more like an entire mask. When I was younger I actually was afraid of the effect, but now she kinda looks hilarious to me. This is by default the second best story of the film. I give more points to Wurdalak because it’s a little more fleshed out and involves a bigger cast.
So there you have it, three stories running the gambit of the horror genre. A killer that stalks their victims, vampires, and ghosts: all good stuff. My biggest complaint doesn’t lie with any of the stories but rather the framework around them.
Karloff introduces the movie as himself, the actor and explaining that we will be watching three terrifying tales. Well, it’s good that he tells me how many stories there are but don’t you think they could have done a little better than that? Granted none of the stories are related, but I always prefer an anthology that sets up its stories rather than just having them fire off in rapid succession. All the intro really does is pull me out of the movie. It’s not the only time a horror film has done this. Off the top of my head, Frankenstein and even bride of Frankenstein had their cheesy intros (at the least bride’s was actors in character as opposed to some random guy in a suit). Or even The Coffin Joe movie “At Mightnight I’ll Take Your Soul” had a decent, if not cheesy intro where someone is talking directly to the camera.
To make it worse, the film has an outro with Karloff in full costume from The Wurdalak basically saying goodbye. He’s riding a horse with branches beating past him. For no reason whatsoever it pans out, showing he’s on a fake horse infront of a blue screen with people trotting along with branches to make it seem like he’s moving. It even shows the director filming it. I don’t need to be reminded that I’m watching a movie, I know I’m watching a movie. Nothing drives me crazier than when a film breaks the fourth wall. It’s always just been a pet peeve of mine.
Overall this is regarded as a classic and is Bava at his best. My only complaint is the intro and outro, but really it’s minor all things considered. Check it out and, as always, thanks for reading!