I tre volti della paura (1963)

a.k.a. - Black Sabbath (USA)

Boris Karloff and Mark Damon star in Mario Bava's highly effective gothic horror anthology. ABUS R0 DVD

The Film

Boris Karloff (as himself) introduces a trilogy of horror tales. In The Telephone, a young woman, Rosy, is plagued by mysterious calls from a man who seems to be watching her every move. She reads in the newspaper that the man she helped lock up, Frank Rainer has escaped from prison and fears that he is coming to kill her. She calls her old friend Mary who offers to come down and look after Rosy, but she seems to have more in mind than just friendship. The Wurdalak takes the setting back to the gothic era where a traveller Vladimire d'Urfe (Mark Damon) arrives at the remote home of a family who are waiting for the return of the patriarch Gorca (Brosi Karloff) who has ridden out to combat and evil presence but has warned the family that should he return home after midnight, not to allow him in for he will have turned into a a bloodsucking Wurdalak that prey on the ones they love most - arriving home on the stroke of midnight the family are unsure how to treat their cold and mysterious father. In The Drop of Water nurse Helen Chester takes a valuable diamond ring from the house of a dead woman, but returning home she finds herself plagued with the sound of a mysterious dripping of water.

Stemming from the small British horror film Dead of Night (1945), the 1960s saw a number of anthology horror films, the best known of which were the British Amicus production including Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965) and Torture Garden (1967) - Roger Corman earlier directed a lesser known anthology piece Tales of Terror (1962) for AIP as part of his Poe cycle and it is this which seems to have inspired Bava's three part tale. The first story, The Telephone is a prototype giallo script, conveying a lot of the ideas and themes that would become genre mainstays, most notably the 'girl in peril' setting and the deep sexual themes (so vivid for the era that they were rapidly excised from the American prints). The story is a real exercise in minimalism, never leaving the single, often claustraphobic set yet it never drags, building up the tension to a fitting if not unpredictable climax.

Wurdalak is a completely different project - a more traditional gothic horror story that could easily have filled a feature length film. Inspired by an Aleksei Tolstoy short story, the segment continues on the Russian settings of Bava's La maschera del demonio (1960) and provides a very interesting alternative to the usual Stoker-inspired European vampire stories. Well paced with some effectively creepy atmosphere, this chapter is let down only slightly be a somewhat drawn out and predictable ending. The Drop of Water is a rather neat combination of the 'girl in peril' tone of the first story, with the gothic horror atmosphere of the second and highly remniscent of Edgar Allan Poe. Almost dialogue free, in a deliberate contrast to the entirely dialogue based Telephone, it achieves the most genuinely scary atmosphere of the trilogy and moves to an excellent ending.

In scenes originally filmed for, but ultimately never used in the American release, the film opens with a brief introduction from Boris Karloff as himself and he returns at the end for a light hearted farewell. The latter scene might annoy some horror fans, dispelling as it does the impressive atmosphere of the final chapter, but it allows the story itself to end on a much darker note than would normally be permitted by Italian producers who were often insistent on happy or lighter endings. Interestingly, each story opens with its own title card and writing credits and there are no linking sequences between them, a relief from the often painfully tenuous and time wasting linking stories of the Amicus Anthologies.

Although director Mario Bava shot his previous horror film La maschera del demonio in atmospheric monochrome, his subsequent adventure projects Ercole al centro della terra (1961) and Gli invasori (1961) had demonstrated the beautiful use of colour for which he would become famous and he uses this to its forté in the second and third chapters here, flooding the sets with a surreal blend of coloured lighting that really helps to underscore the supernatural elements. The sets themselves show an incredible amount of care and attention, from the amazing cobwebbed crypt in Wurdalak, to the infinite details of the nurse's apartment in Drop that really help to build the atmosphere. Telephone has a completely different look but Bava shows equal amounts of skill here managing to find a hundred ways to shoot on the single set so that it never becomes repetitive.

Boris Karloff, veteran of the classic Universal horror era, had made something of a come back in the late 1950s and as well as a number of television roles, was cast by Roger Corman in the horror comedy The Raven (1963). The film proved that Karloff was adept at handling both genres and so he seems ideal casting here - fortunately, despite his comic turn in the brief closing segment, he is very sincere in Wurdalak and manages to make the possibly vampiric patriach into a genuinely terrifying creation. He is joined in this chapter by another Corman star Mark Damon (House of Usher (1960)) who is well cast as the romantic hero. Among the relatively small cast, the most recognisable face is Michèle Mercier who starred in a number of films including the enjoyable Angélique series.

I tre volti della paura is probably the best of Mario Bava's numerous horror films, showing an incredible hand for direction in both the contemporary Telephone and the gothic style second and third chapters and for once he is not let down by either the script, soundtrack or acting. A must see for all classic horror fans, it comes highly recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Boris Karloff - veteran British actor best known for Universal Horror classic Frankenstein (1931).
Mark Damon - an American actor who made his name in Corman's gothic horror House of Usher (1960)
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - one of the most acclaimed of the Italian horror directors, responsible for classic horrors from Black Sunday (1960) and Whip and the Body (1964) to Lisa and the Devil (1973).
Any gore or violence ? Nothing particularly bloody.
Any sex or nudity? The Telephone sequence contains some surprisingly vivid lesbian themes, but no visible nudity.
Who is it for? A must see for Bava collectors and highly recommended to all classic horror fans.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is strong with good detail and well reproduced colours.
Audio Italian mono - sounds strong.
Subtitles English subtitles for the Italian audio.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with Bava scholar Tim Lucas, discusses the film in great detail although there are some long gaps.
  • Interview with actor Mark Damon discussing both this film and his career as a whole, some interesting stories but a few rather contentious comments (such that he directed two of the Corman Poe films). (20 minutes)
  • Original theatrical trailers - Italian and American (the latter being for the 'Black Sabbath' cut).
  • American television spot.
  • Image gallery - 76 promotional images and stills from the film.
  • Detailed biographies of Mario Bava and Boris Karloff.
  • Bonus trailers for Black Sunday, Kill Baby Kill, Knives of the Avenger and The Girl Who Knew Too Much.
Availability Available on its own or in the The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Previously released in the USA by Image Entertainment and also available from Anolis in Germany although non-anamorphic.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut as per the original Italian release - for US release, the producers changed the opening and closing scenes, re-edited the Telephone sequence to remove the lesbian undertones, re-ordered and re-scored the film under the Black Sabbath title. Print language is Italian.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 10th January 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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