Synopsis: Boris Karloff is your host for Bava’s 1963 classic triptych of terror in which The Maestro again set new standards in the deviant sexuality, graphic violence and spellbinding horror. Michèle Mercier stars in THE TELEPHONE, a tale of lesbian obsession and murder. In THE WURDALAK, Karloff stars with Mark Damon as the patriarch of a family of bloodthirsty ghouls. And in THE DROP OF WATER, Jacqueline Pierreux is a nurse stalked by the vengefuls spirit of a dead medium.
eyelights: the camerawork. the quality of the production.
eyesores: the unevenness of its vignettes.
“You have no reason to be afraid.”
‘I tre volti della paura’ is a horror anthology film by Mario Bava. A triptych, it was conceived by Bava as three different takes on fear in three different eras. It is hosted by Boris Karloff, who also stars in the second of the three short stories – which were all inspired by literary classics.
Though it was well-received, interestingly, its greatest claim to fame is due to its North American version, which was heavily censored and renamed ‘Black Sabbath’ – thereby inspiring a young Birmingham metal band called Earth into changing their moniker.
The rest, as they say, is history.
For me, ‘I tre volti della paura’ is a serviceable but not altogether memorable motion picture: its segments are inconsistent in quality and they don’t exact fear into its audience quite like Bava had intended. They may very well have worked on the written page, but it doesn’t translate here.
1. The Telephone: The first short finds a young woman arriving home from a soirée; Rosy is dressed to the nines and her place is spacious and well-furnished. The telephone rings but there’s no one on the line. Annoyed, she hangs up. The phone rings again, and there’s still no one there.
By the third ring, however, someone does speak up and they threaten her, telling Rosy that they can see her every move. Paranoid, she turns off the lights and puts cloth in the keyhole. But she doesn’t notice an eerie form peering through the blinds outside and walking around her place.
Instead of calling the police, she calls Mary, a former friend, for help.
Mary comes over, but will she be able to help Rosy?
What’s terrific about this one is the tension-building of the piece. Though it defies credibility in some instances, it’s easy to ignore it given the way that Bava builds up the paranoia. There’s also a subtext about a lesbian romance between Rosy and Mary, which is daring for its time. 8.0
2. The Wurdalak: This one is set in Russia in the 19th century and it revolves around a family curse. While horseback riding, Vladimir finds a dead man with a dagger in his heart. He takes it and brings the body to the nearest home, where he discovers that the knife belonged to the family patriarch.
The old man, Gorca (Karloff) has been missing for days. He’d been out hunting the Wurdalak, an undead creature that feasts on the blood of the ones it loved when it was alive. The only way to kill it is to stab it in the heart. Then, later that night, Gorca returns, looking haggard and out of sorts…
The Wurdalak is coming for them.
This one has a classic structure and is more subtle in its delivery, though the fact it’s based on superstition didn’t really do anything for me. If anything, it reminded me of tales such as Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. It was okay, but the sets didn’t look realistic and I simply couldn’t get into the mood. 6.75
3. The Drop of Water: Miss Chester is called in to tend to the body of an eccentric cat lady who died during a séance. Annoyed at being called in late at night, she decides to take one of the old woman’s rings as compensation. The problem is that the ring brings with it no small amount of horror.
First she is pestered by a fly which she can’t rid herself of. Then she hears water dripping – and no amount of tightening the taps can stop it. Then she hears a creak in the house – and when she investigates, she finds the old woman waiting for her, reappearing in various places as she tries to escape.
There is no escape – no matter who holds the ring.
This one is reminiscent of Poe in some ways, along the lines of “The Tell-Tale Heart”, but it’s marred by a ghastly-looking corpse – so ghastly in fact that it merely looks like a demented doll. This took away from the sequence’s realism, which is essential in order to create a proper sense of terror. 7.0
The bookends with Boris Karloff are enjoyable and also probably looked good on paper, but they don’t have much poignancy. And though I enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek quality of the finale, which lifts the veil from the movie magic, it wasn’t enough to make it feel worthwhile. If anything, it seemed superfluous.
But, all told, ‘I tre volti della paura’ is as decent an anthology as they come. They’re usually a mish-mash anyway, and this one is no different, despite its very strong opening. On the flipside, it benefits from Mario Bava’s keen eye and sense of style; it has a look that few of its ilk can boast of.
That alone makes it worth seeing.
Date of viewing: June 15, 2017