||Boris Karloff, Lidia Alfonsi, Michèle Mercier, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Glauco Oronato, Jacqueline Pierreux
Image's latest release in their Mario Bava collection is the original
Italian cut of Bava's 'I Tre volti della paura,' released in the United
States as 'Black Sabbath.' Overall, using the Italian cut rather than
the rearranged, cut and rescored American International release is a
good idea, but there is a significant loss: the voice of Boris Karloff.
In his brief opening and closing scenes as host, and in the "Wurdulak"
sequences, the only one of the three stories he appears in, he's been
dubbed by an Italian actor. Since Karloff was speaking English on the
set, his voice was probably recorded; it's too bad those tracks weren't
found. Granted, this would have meant that he alone (and possibly Mark
Damon) would have been the only actors in the movie speaking English,
with the rest being subtitled, even in scenes with Karloff, but that
would have been an infinitesimally small price to pay to gain Karloff's
beautiful, distinctive voice.
That cavil to one side, this is an excellent disc. Unlike Image's
release of 'Black Sunday,' this doesn't have a voice track by Tim
Lucas, but his perceptive notes are printed on the packaging. The
extras include a trailer (save it until after you've watched the
movie), an extensive collection of stills, biographies and scene
selections. Perhaps more text material could have been included, or a
comparison between sequences from the American release and this Italian
original, but as with any DVD, what really counts is the movie, and
this is a good one.
The screenplay was co-written by Mario Bava with Marcello Fondato and
Alberto Bevilacqua; they're supposedly based on classic stories, but as
Lucas' liner notes point out, were primarily original stories --
particularly the third -- by Bava himself.
The first story, "The Telephone" (Chapter 2), was probably watched by
Kevin Williamson, since the opening scene in 'Scream' is almost a
paraphrase of this tense little thriller. A woman (Michèle Mercier)
alone in her basement apartment receives a series of threatening phone
calls from a menace who seems to be able to see her.
There's not much new here, but Bava generates a great deal of suspense,
partly by a kind of narrative trick regarding the identity of the
caller. The only fumble in the plot: why doesn't the imperiled heroine
call the police?
"The Wurdulak" (Chapter 6) is the best and most elaborate story of the
three. Set in the Balkans, perhaps Russia, in the mid-19th century, it
tells of a traveler (Mark Damon) who is given shelter by a family
terrified of the return of the patriarch, Gorca (Boris Karloff). They
fear that if he returns after five days have passed, he will be a
wurdulak, a kind of vampire driven to attack those he loves the most.
Karloff is excellent in this, giving one of the best performances of
his career; it's one of the very few times that he played a figure of
evil, and the only time he was a vampire. With his gray curly hair and
walrus mustache, a slow, menace smile and a shamble instead of a walk,
he seems both extremely powerful and extremely dangerous.
The photography in this sequence is especially good, strongly
resembling Bava's own 'Black Sunday,' but this time in color. There's a
shot of ruined buildings at sunset that's haunting and beautiful, like
a postcard from Transylvania. But the best thing about this segment is
Karloff; it's too bad that he and Bava never worked together again.
The third story, "The Drop of Water" (Chapter 11), is a suspenseful if
conventional story in which a woman (Jacqueline Pierreux) who
apparently dresses dead bodies for a living steals a valuable ring from
the corpse of a freshly-dead medium. Returning home, she's haunted by
the sounds of dripping water and a fly, and finally by the medium
Some consider this one of the greatest short horror stories ever
filmed, but others may find it too predictable to have the impact Bava
intended. Also, the dummy of the dead medium is rather too obviously a
prop, draining some of the impact.
This and 'Black Sunday' are probably Bava's two best films, the two
best horror movies ever made in Italy. Unlike some of his later films,
the plots here are clear and uncomplicated, and he doesn't over-use the
zoom lens as he sometimes did later on. He always had a brilliant eye
for composition and visual style, never better than in 'Black Sabbath.'
It's a beautiful film, eerie when it needs to be, straightforward (as
in "The Telephone") when that's required.
In the last two years or so, "Eurohorror" has taken off in American
home video, but there are really two schools. Directors like Bava,
Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti were of a classic school, wedding
elements of the old Universal films and the later Hammer movies to an
Italian sensibility; their movies were sensual, darkly romantic and
beautiful. Later directors, including Ruggero Deodato, Lucio Fulci and
Bava's son Lamberto, emphasized extremely graphic gore and mordant,
downbeat stories. Only the often excellent Dario Argento successfully
bridged the gap between these styles of Italian Eurohorror, although it
is true that at least one of Mario Bava's films, released in the United
States under the charming title, 'Twitch of the Death Nerve,' is pretty
It's easy to understand why these films, both old and new school, have
caught on with American home video customers. The films play very well
in the intimate environment of home theater: they're colorful and
exciting, but the stories are not very demanding. They're great for
casual watching, and that is praise, not an insult.
But Mario Bava's films still stand out above all the rest; the best
have both an underlying tone of melancholy and regret, and a sense of
just how much fun it is to make movies. (This is cheerfully underscored
in the very last scene of 'Black Sabbath,' never before shown in the
United States.) Despite overtones in the films of many other directors,
there was only one Mario Bava, and Image is to be congratulated for
their care in this series of his films.
If you liked this DVD, you may also like...
Black Sunday, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Tales of Terror, Dead of Night (1945)
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||notes; cast & crew filmographies; photo gallery; trailers
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||36-inch Sony XBR