FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Jan 27, 2010

Film Club: Black Sabbath

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 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.


Preceding 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!
Nilbog Milk
Moving Pictures - Haiku Film Reviews
The United Provinces of Ivanlandia
Banned in Queensland
In One Ear...
The House of Sparrows
Things That Don't Suck
United Monkee
Film Shuffle
emma blackwood
Mother Firefly's Faster Pussycats!
Mondo Bizarro
RJ Battles


Verdant Earl said...

I screwed the pooch when it came to managing my Netflix queue so I couldn't review it for the Film Club. Le sigh.

But I plan on moving it up so I can watch it this weekend. Hooray!

Alec Pridgen said...

Damn, I was hoping that I would make your list.

Oh well, I got a good movie experience out of it. Considering the crap I usually review, that is a major blessing, I suppose. There's always next month!

Stacie Ponder said...

Wait, did you send me a link? It may have gotten lost in my email shuffle...which was busy doing the Curly Shuffle.

I don't, like, judge these reviews before I add links- I add ALL links! Send me another email or simply post your link here and I'll add ya. SOrry about any confusion!!!

CWL said...

You are being way harsh on the countess. A mere ten surgeries and she'd be ready for Laguna Beach.

Thanks for including me in this go-round and picking such a stellar film!

Alec Pridgen said...

It's not a big deal. I sent the e-mail really late, despite actually doing my review back on the 8th. That's my fault for not remembering to, you know, send you the e-mail.

I'll resend the link. Thanks.

Stacie Ponder said...

That's okay, I never remember anything.

Wait...what were we talking about?


TJ Dietsch said...

Hey thanks for the inclusion, this was a lot of fun! It's funny that you mentioned dubbed Karloff because there was nothing more annoying than watching someone speaking in English, dubbed into Italian and then having to read it in English.

Timmy Crabcakes said...

You must have seen the version with the original order (Drop of Water last instead of first)... where The Telephone doesn't have the supernatural angle that was added for U.S. audiences.

AE said...

Karloff does look exactly like "something a cat would cough up"! He is SUCH a furry old mess. In your ongoing sexy-vampire vs. monster-vampire contest, he is a good entry on the monster side.

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping for a bit of help here. After reading the great reviews for Black Sabbath (the old, dead medium kept me awake for weeks staring at the bedroom door in terror as a kid) I've been trying to find the story that inspired it. Unbelievably, I can't find seem to find any information on it, despite trying several search phrases. Does anyone know which Tolstoy story this came from, and is there an English translation available online? I'm presuming its old enough to be in the public domain....

Stacie Ponder said...

I hope our linguistitastic friend Bill chimes in here...I will say, however, that he emailed me earlier and said it's from Tolstoy's "Sem'ya vurdalaka". Where to get that I have no clue, nor if it's even possible. But I think I may do some more snooping...

Bloody Mary said...

Rob, I think you may have a hard time finding the source material. Here's a quote that explains things nicely: "Of the three stories included in Black Sabbath, the opening credits indicate the screenplay was "freely adapted from stories by Chekhov, Tolstoy, and Maupassant," but as Tim Lucas points out in his DVD liner notes, you would find it difficult, if not altogether impossible, to find copies of the stories that inspired the three episodes. At this time, AIP and Roger Corman were mining the works of Edgar Allen Poe in extremely loose adaptations and reaping tremendous profits. So in likelihood, the famous monikers were chosen for Black Sabbath to help legitimize the proceedings."

In her above comment, Stacie gave you the correct source for "The Wurdulak" and the other two segments were vaguely inspired by Maupassant's "The Horla" (which also inspired Vincent Price's Diary of a Madman). Bava later admitted the Chekhov reference was fabricated. (This info is from Tim Lucas's commentary.)

I love reading source material, too, and I think I read everything on the entire internet written about this movie!

rob! said...

Loved it, loved it, loved it. The review and the movie!

Anonymous said...

Bloody Mary-

Thanks for the additional information. Tolstoy is a famous writer, surely the story which acted as inspiration is available somewhere ... although, it's the English translation that I'll concede may not be readily available. It's amazing to think in the current age, when we can find out what somebody had for breakfast if we're truly interested to read about such things, we can't read a story by as big a name as Tolstoy... what's wrong with this picture.

And by the way, I had pecan pancakes.

Anonymous said...

Actually the Tolstoy in question wasn't the famous writer Leo. It was a distant cousin of his: Alexei.

highwayknees said...

Alexi!! Well I never! Smells of a bait'n'switch coat-tail rider to me!

Unknown said...

saw this one back when I was a young 'un, a loooong time ago and I've got to tell you, the drop of water story actually looks better on black and white tv. she's less plastic looking. more sceery.