Wicked Wednesday: Black Sabbath (I tre volti della paura) (1963)

I…am a doofus. Though, I have never proclaimed to be anything but. For many (too many) years, I thought Black Sunday and Black Sabbath were the same movie. Could I tell that they had different titles? Probably. Did that matter in my brain? Absolutely not.

So for years, I had convinced myself that I had already seen Black Sabbath because of how many times I had seen Black Sunday. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realised the error I had made.

…at least they’re both directed by Mario Bava?

Anyway. In many respects, this was a happy mistake. Because this week, I got to watch the masterpiece that is Black Sabbath for the very first time ever.

Black Sabbath is a anthology film, very reminiscent of Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror that was released a year prior in 1963. But Bava’s film has both better pace, acting and style.

The three sections in this anthology are introduced by genre legened Boris Karloff. He weaves us in and out of worlds with vampires, ghosts and devious humans.

In tale one, “The Drop of Water”, nurse Helen is called to prepare the body of a medium. There she is warned not to touch anything belonging to the descased, as it may be cursed. Ignoring the warnings, Helen takes the sapphire ring she spots on the corpse’s finger. But when she gets home, Helen soon finds that she should never cross a woman who can make a good curse.

The medium’s corpse is absolutely inconic. She is terrifying to behold. And it’s easy to believe that Helen is being drawn into madness. This segment alone should be all it takes to deem the movie as excellent.

The second tale, “The Telephone”, is truly nightmare-inducing. One of my greatest fear is leering men (see my favourite horror film ever, Black Christmas). When Rosy gets a call from a strange man, she becomes unnerved. Especially since the man appears to be able to see her every move.

Rosy calls a friend for help. The friend, Mary, arrives soon after to assist her friend. Rosy reveals that the calls are coming from Frank, a man who was sent to prison on Rosy’s testimony. Mary does her best to ease her friend’s tension, but can they stand a chance against the supernatural?

This story was the most greatly changed from the Italian release (more on that later). So it’s difficult to be overly enthusastic. Much of this segment doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We don’t know why Frank was sent away or why Rosy would be the cause of that. That being said, it is still enjoyable all the same.

The final segment sees Boris Karloff in an acting role. “The Wurdurlak” follows a family in the Russian countryside. Their father (Karloff) is off in the countryside slaying vampires. Before he departs, he tells them that there is one rule to follow: they must not let him in if he arrives after midnight of the third day.

When young Vladimir finds a beheaded body, he takes the knife from the corpse’s chest. When he stumbles upon a cottage, the family there recognise the knife as their father’s. Vladimir is invited to stay with them for the night as they nervously await their father’s return.

“The Wurdurlak” is a great lesson in: always listen to your dad always. Also – behead verything with a weird hole in its neck. This is the longest segment of the movie, and it feels like it too. The pacing is off and we never really get to attach ourselves to any of the characters too much beyond Karloff’s Gorca. That being said, it’s still a wonder to behold.

I love Bava’s earlier gialli. La ragazza che sapeva troppo and 6 donne per l’assassino are two of my favourites; they’re classics of the genre. While the former is in black and white, it’s clear that stylisticly, much of what is explored in Black Sabbath is used in Blood and Black Lace to great effect.

This has to be one of the most gorgeous movies I have ever seen. The three segments are all set in different times, helping to differenciate them. Easily the most lucious story visually is “The Drop of Water”, which is well worth returning to again and again. It’s a treat for the eyes, and there’s a wickedly good story there.

After I finished watching the movie, I realised I had seen the American released (the English dub should have been my first clue, but see first paragraph to remind you that I am not smart). This movie is one of the many examples where the American production company greatly interfered with the work to make it “appeal to American audiences”. Much was cut out, a new soundtrack made and processing the colours differently. Incidentally, the company, American International Pictures, was behind Corman’s Poe Cycle, so it’s clear to see why they feel so similar in many ways.

I’ve put Bava’s Italian release onto my to-watch list. The things I thought strage (the clear skips in violence, the plot holes, and almost garish soundtrack) are apparently not present in the Italian version. Now, just to hunt down the release…somewhere…at a reasonable price.

In general, I want to make this statement: for the love of all that is unholy – streaming services, please include all versions of a film to make them everything accessable to all. Keep dubbed versions. Give us the original languages. We just want it all.

Please and thank you.

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