Friday, January 28, 2011

Film Review: Black Sabbath - 2010

The last of the series of movie reviews I did for an earlier, now-defunct blog. Good thing I went out on a winner...

This month's movie is the 1963 anthology Black Sabbath, "hosted" by and starring Boris Karloff!

Made in Italy by Mario Bava, apparently this film was vastly fiddled with for its American release. The version I saw is the original, subtitled-in-English Italian one, titled I Tre Volti Della Paura:
This film opens with a wonderfully vivid, hyper-colorful shot of Boris Karloff, standing, apparently, on the edge of a dimensional vortex:
Boris does his typical (but still entertaining!) slightly-humorous-yet-creepy style of introduction, warning us of the scary stuff we're about to see.

The first segment is called "The Telephone", and it stars the ravishing Michele Mercier. Coming home after an evening out, Mercier's Rosy answers the phone, but no one's on the other end.

The phone rings again, with the same result. Finally, when it rings a third time, Rosy is told that she's being watched. Not only that: she will die tonight!
What follows is a trip through Rosy's quickly crumbling sanity, as the man on the other end--an ex-lover named Frank, now escaped from jail--is apparently able to see Rosy and everything she does.

Finally, Rosy calls a friend, Mary, who she hasn't spoken to in years, apparently ending the relationship on bad terms. Mary is a bit smug about Rosy calling her again, but after Rosy's pleading, she agrees to come over.

Mary arrives, and its fairly clear that this relationship is a little more than just a friendship, though in 1963 this could really only be hinted at. Mary stays the night (in the same bed, yet) to comfort Rosy.

Morning arrives, and Mary is writing a letter as Rosy is still sleeping. Mary confesses that she has been waiting for years to hear from Rosy. Unfortunately, she's there just as Frank breaks into the house...and for those of you haven't seen the movie, I'll leave it at that.

The second story is "The Wurdulak", starring Boris Karloff. Set in an undetermined time and place, a young man on horseback wanders into a tiny village, and meets a family haunted by the vampire-like Wurdulak, a creature that stalks the forest, drinking the blood of its victims.

The family's father is played by Karloff, who has been gone for days. He finally returns, in the middle of the night:
...I have to mention the astonishing art direction and set decoration for this movie. The colors and the staging are just gorgeous to look at. They're creepy and scary, yet have a pulpy, comic book-esque feel that give the movie a slightly lighter tone, something that will come into play at the end.

"The Wurdulak" is my least favorite of the three stories (I feel like it drags a little bit, and the hero is so thick-headed I wanted to punch him), but it has some amazingly creepy moments.

When Karloff's Wurdulak puts the bite on his grandson, Ivan, his parents are divided in the grief over what to do. The Father, believing every bit about the Wurdulak curse, wants to stab his son in the heart so he does not rise from the grave.

But Ivan's mother can't do it, so they bury the boy as is. That night, Ivan does indeed rise from the grave, and knocks on the door, meekly pleading to be let inside because he's cold. The father tries to convince his wife of the danger, but she can't bear the idea of her son being outside in the cold. It ends like you expect it would, when you ignore an ages-old curse.

The "hero" gets away with another member of the family, a woman he's in love with, but they don't get away for long.

The final segment is "The Drop of Water", about a nurse who is called in to dress the corpse of a woman who has recently died. The dead woman's meek sister can't bring herself to do it, so she begs the nurse to come over and do it for her, much to the nurse's annoyance.

While dressing the corpse (looking pretty ghastly), she sees that the dead woman is wearing a beautiful ring on her hand. While the sister is out of the room, she steals the ring. Bad idea.
The nurse heads home, but quickly begins to get creeped out the endless sound of dripping water, coming from various sources in her house.

Finally, the dead woman appears in the house, seemingly wanting her ring back. The nurse is so terrified, she strangles herself to death...or does she?

The next morning, the police find the nurse's dead body. The woman's neighbor--the one who found the body--tells them she heard the nurse scream in the middle of the night, broke the door down to find the nurse dead.

One of the police examines the body, and sees that someone has forcibly pulled a ring off the nurse's finger! We cut to the eyes of the neighbor, who begins to hear the sound of dripping water...

The film wraps up with Boris Karloff, this time dressed in his Wurdulak costume and riding the most fake horse you've ever seen. He wishes us good luck getting home, and "takes off" on his horse. Its here that Bava pans back, way back, and lets us peek behind the curtain:
Dear God, did I love this final scene. Despite all the genuinely scary stuff in this movie, Bava lets us in on the joke, in one of the most audacious ways I've ever seen in a movie. I found it utterly charming, yet it didn't take away from the creepy stuff that came before it.

I really enjoyed Black Sabbath, enough that it makes me want to see the Americanized version, just to see the differences (according to the commentary track on the DVD, the American version re-orders the stories, adds a supernatural element to "The Telephone", eliminates that segment's lesbian subtext, uses an entirely different opening with Karloff, and features Karloff himself on the English dubbing--whew!). And, aside from the all scary stuff, it is one gorgeous movie to look at!

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