Saturday, October 9, 2010

Black Sabbath (1963)

The motion picture Black Sabbath, whose Italian title, I Tre volti della paura, translates as The Three Faces of Fear, is a 1963 Italian horror film directed by Mario Bava. Boris Karloff, in addition to appearing in the linking passages, has a role in "The Wurdalak" segment (based on a story by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy). The film comprises three horror stories, the others being "The Drop of Water" and "The Telephone." The Italian original is considerably different from the American version. Released by American International Pictures, it uses a different sequence of the episodes ("The Telephone," followed by "The Wurdalak," followed by "The Drop of Water"), features a different music score, and has different introductory scenes involving Karloff as the narrator, some of which are tongue-in-cheek. The stories themselves are somewhat different as well. The Italian version of "The Wurdalak" is slightly gorier than the US version, but the biggest difference is with "The Telephone." In its original Italian version, this segment contains a lesbian sub-plot that is eliminated in the English-language version by removing a couple scenes, changing the dialogue in those that are left, and reshooting a key insert shot involving a letter. As a result, the American version has been turned into a ghost story, whereas the Italian original is a non-supernatural, noirish exercise in vengeance and murder.

"The Telephone"

Rosy (Michele Mercier) is an attractive, high-priced Parisian call-girl who returns to her spacious basement apartment after an evening out when she immediately gets beset by a series of strange phone calls. The caller soon identifies himself as Frank, her ex-pimp who has recently escaped from prison. Rosy is terrified, for it was her testimony that landed the man in jail. Looking for solace, Rosy phones her lesbian lover, Mary (Lydia Alfonsi). The two women have been estranged for some time, but Rosy is certain that she is the only one who can help her. Mary agrees to come over that night. Seconds later, Frank calls again, promising that no matter who she calls for protection, he will have his revenge. Unknown to Rosy, Mary is the caller impersonating Frank. Mary arrives at Rosy's apartment soon after and does her best to calm Rosy's nerves. She gives the panic-struck woman a tranquilizer and puts her to bed. Later that night, as Rosy sleeps, Mary gets up out of bed and pens a note of confession; she was the one making the strange phone calls when she learned of Frank's escape from prison. Knowing that Rosy would call on her for help, she explains that she felt it was her way of coming back into her life after their breakup. While she is busy writing, she fails to notice an intruder in the apartment. This time it is the real Frank. He creeps up behind Mary and strangles her to death with one of Rosy's nylon stockings. The sound of the struggle awakens Rosy and she gasps in fright. The murderous pimp realizes that he just killed the wrong woman, and slowly makes his way to Rosy's bed. However, earlier that night, Rosy had placed a butcher knife under her pillow at Mary's suggestion. Rosy seizes the knife and stabs Frank with it as he's beginning to strangle her. Rosy drops the knife and breaks down in hysteria, surrounded by the two corpses of her former lovers.

"The Wurdalak"
In 19th Century Russia, Vladimir Durfe (Mark Damon) is a young nobleman on a long trip. During the course of his journey, he finds a beheaded corpse with a knife plunged into its heart. He withdraws the blade and takes it as a souvenir. Later that night, Vladimir stops at a small rural cottage to ask for shelter. He notices several daggers hanging up on one of the walls, and a vacant space that happens to fit the one he has discovered. Vladimir is surprised by the entrance of Giorgio (Glauco Onorato), who explains that the knife belongs to his father, who has not been seen for five days. Giorgio offers a room to the young count, and subsequently introduces him to the rest of the family: his wife (Rika Dialina), their young son Ivan, Giorgio's younger brother Pietro (Massimo Righi), and sister Sdenka (Susy Anderson). It subsequently transpires that they are eagerly anticipating the arrival of their father, Gorcha, as well as the reason for his absence: he went to do battle with the outlaw and dreaded wurdalak Ali Beg. Vladimir is confused by the term, and Sdenka explains that a wurdalak is a walking cadaver who feeds on the blood of the living, preferably close friends and family members. Giorgio and Pietro are certain that the corpse Vladimir had discovered is that of Ali Beg, but also realize that there is a strong possibility that their father has been infected by the blood curse too. They warn the count to leave, but he decides to stay and await the old man's return. At the stroke of midnight, Gorcha (Boris Karloff) returns to the cottage. His sour demeanor and unkempt appearance bode the worse, and the two brothers are torn; they realize that it is their duty to kill Gorcha before he feeds on the family, but their love for him makes it difficult to reach a decision. Later that night, both Ivan and Pietro are attacked by Gorcha who drains them of blood and flees the cottage. Giorgio stakes and beheads Pietro to prevent him from reviving as a wurdalak. But he is prevented from doing so to Ivan when his wife threatens to commit suicide. Reluntantly, he agrees to bury the child without taking the necessary precautions.

That same night, the child rises from his grave and begs to be invited into the cottage. The mother runs to her son's aid, stabbing Giorgio when he attempts to stop her, only to be greeted at the front door by Gorcha. The old man bites and infects his daughter-in-law, who then does the same for her husband. Vladimir and Sdenka flee from the cottage and go on the run and hide out in the ruins of an abandoned cathedral as dawn breaks. Vladimir is optimistic that a long and happy life lies with them. But Sdenka is reluctant to relinquish her family ties. She believes that she is meant to stay with the family. Sdenka's fears about her family are confirmed when that evening, Gorcha and her siblings show up at the abandoned abbey. As Vladimir sleeps, Sdenka is lured into their loving arms where they bite her to death. Awakened by her screams, Vladimir rushes to her aid, but the family has already taken her home, forcing the lover to follow suit. The young nobleman finds her lying motionless on her bed. Sdenka awakens, and a distinct change is visible on her face. No longer caring, Vladimir embraces her, and she bites and infects him as well.

"The Drop of Water"

In Victorian London, England, Nurse Helen Chester (Jacqueline Pierreux) is called to a large house to prepare the corpse of an elderly medium for her burial. As she dresses the body, she notices an elaborate sapphire ring on its finger. Tempted by greed, Nurse Chester steals it. As she does, a glass tips over, and drops of water begin to splash on the floor. She is also assailed by a fly, no doubt attracted by the odor of the body. Unsettled but pleased by her acquisition, she finishes the job and returns home to her small East End flat. After returning home, Nurse Chester is assailed by strange events. The buzzing fly returns and continues to pester her. Then the lights in her apartment go out, and the sound of the dripping water continues with maddening regularity. She sees the old woman's corpse lying on her bed and coming towards her. The terrified woman begs for forgiveness, but she ultimately strangles herself, imagining that the medium's hands are gripping her throat. The next morning, the concierge (Harriet White Medin) discovers Nurse Chester's body and calls the police. The investigator on the scene (Gustavo de Nardo) quickly concludes that it is a simple case and that Nurse Chester "died of fright." The pathologist arrives on the scene to examine the body before it is taken away and notes that the only sign of violence is a small bruise on her left finger, mostly likely caused when someone pried a ring from her finger. As the doctor makes this observation, the concierge appears distressed, for she has apparently taken the ring from the dead Nurse Chester, and is further distracted by the sound of a fly swooping about in the air....

This is the original Italian version with no English subtitles:

MARIO BAVA  (1962)
92 MIN

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