Tuesday, January 12, 2010

BLACK SABBATH [AKA I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA] (1963)

Anthologies are the unsung love objects of horrordom. Even though some are respected, from a distance, seldom will you hear fans of the form cited after the fashion of mummy enthusiasts or bejeweled vampire admirers. But I am coming out of the anthology closet. They are superior things for many reasons—the form allows a creator to stretch the same themes across multiple settings; their short length doesn't allow for a lot of extraneous fat and requires storytelling discipline ("And yet to me what an indisputable mark it is of a great artist to have captured everything in a tiny compass"); and because of their short length, you know that a painful tale will be over soon. SNOOP DOGG'S HOOD OF HORROR is 4.0 on IMDB, BONES is 3.9. It is settled science.

BLACK SABBATH is an anthology and my favorite Mario Bava film for just those reasons. Bava's great and what have you, but the weaknesses that I see in his full-length stuff (which tend to drag at times [FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, please believe]) aren't that present here. BLACK SABBATH, by virtue of its brevity, is spare and razor-sharp.

The first tale has all the problems. "Il Telefono" is a fairly bare-bones thriller, slightly notable for its undercurrent of lesbianism and its primordial giallo elements (black gloves and all). A woman is harassed by threatening calls and soon learns that a spurned ex has escaped from prison. There are twists and a deeply unfitting jazz soundtrack, and the whole thing is more ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS than TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, but it is soon over and we meet

"Il Wurdulak", a vampire opus starring the late lamented Boris Karloff! A dagger found in someone's back is the impetus for a wayfarer to visit a family. The patriarch has been out slaying a monster and returns, maybe a monster himself. Specifically a wurdulak, which are "bloodthirsty corpses. They yearn for the blood of those they loved most when they were alive." Creepy, no? The traveler falls for a hot young blond thing named Sdenka, who, considering when this was set, belongs in the Makeup Hall of Fame on grounds of innovation. As with the whole film, this tale is paced slowly and deliberately, and you can see the care with which everything was shot. It's quite a contrast to our modern-day movies, in which the cameras all have Parkinson's.

"La Goccia d'Acqua" completes the trilogy and it is pretty straightforward and excellent. A nurse is called the bedside of a recently-dead woman, her face frozen in ghastly rictus. Taking things from the dead is never a good idea, but nurses don't generally watch scary movies (as they like to call them) and don't learn such lessons from the works of Sandra Bullock. Even for a seasoned scurry movie vet, this is a pretty unsettling experience. The makeup, though it's clearly a product of its time, still holds up very well and Bava lets things unfold at a wrenchingly slow tempo. This one also features the film's best performance, as Jacqueline Pierreux smokes everybody with a blazing effort.

Which is appropriate, since BLACK SABBATH, among other things, is uncommonly focused on women. Two of the three segments give ladies the whole spotlight and weaves plot out of their interactions and relationships. The women here are not just props with makeup (although, as stated, props to the makeup); they're serious characters with personalities. Another nice change from too much nowadays horror. Karloff understandably gets top billing, but the actresses in BLACK SABBATH really carry the day.

An excellent film which flashes all of the strengths of the anthology format while exhibiting few of its weaknesses.

This post is part of January's Final Girl Film Club. You owe it to yourself to check out the other fabulous entries!

3 comments:

AE said...

I enjoyed this movie too! You are so right about the actresses -- they are all wonderful. As is Sdenka's makeup. What do you think were the themes connecting the three stories? I was mulling over this while watching the movie, but the dead countess at the end terrified me so much I forgot the question entirely...

CWL said...

Isn't it amazing that effects from so long ago are still so effective? I'm sure that Bava's direction has lots to do with it, but that final tale is just so unsettling!

I'll have to watch it again with themes in mind! I think there's a lot happening with transgression in all three stories. And I should post this on your blog, but I LOVE your comment about the woman in the first tale being in danger BECAUSE she's so beautiful. That's a really fresh interpretation of giallo that goes beyond the standard sort of "misogynistic" critique.

Also, please watch CREEPSHOW!

AE said...

I was thinking, during the first segment, about this quote I read once from Dario Argento... something like "If I'm going to watch someone being killed, I want it to be a beautiful woman." It explains a lot about his movies.

That's interesting about transgression -- a pretty classic horror idea, and these are pretty classic types of stories. Interesting!

I will for sure watch the rest of Creepshow one of these days! I loved the bits I did see.