Cinema Sunday: Black Sabbath (1963)

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Title: Black Sabbath (The Three Faces of Fear)

Distributor: Warner Bros./AIP

Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Marcello Fondato

Director: Mario Bava

Producer: Salvatore Billitteri, Paolo Mercuri

Starring: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michele Mercier, Susy Andersen, Lidia Alfonsi

Released: August/November 1963 (Italy/France)

MPAA: UR

 

 

As October arrives, so does another movie review! To say that I’m obsessed with Boris Karloff films at the moment would be an enormous understatement. Upon watching this film for the first time a few weeks back, I was in awe because this anthology film is introduced and concluded with Karloff himself revving up the audience for the horror they are about to encounter (and possibly see outside of the theater!), plus he stars in one segment as well! I must confess that I’m not a big fan of anthology (or portmanteau, if you prefer) films. But there are a select few that I do enjoy (Amicus Productions, of course), and this film is probably at the top of that short list.

Let us now journey into the mind of Mario Bava

 

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The first tale (“The Drop of Water”) begins with a woman (Jacqueline Pierreux) answering a phone. There’s a wicked storm rolling through, setting an incredibly eerie mood. The woman on the other end of the phone is calling to ask for help with a dead body that needs to be dressed. The woman is apparently a nurse (or an assistant), and is quite put off by the request at such a late hour. She does agree to come over though.

 

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The door is answered by a pale looking servant, who seems frantic. She explains to the woman who the dead woman was a medium, and very mysterious. And also that if anyone should try to desecrate the home or her corpse, they’ll be cursed! The woman enters the bedroom where the dead woman is lying. She immediately sees the hideous face of the medium, but then her eyes shift to a huge ring on the corpse’s finger that looks valuable. She’s immediately bothered by a fly, and it seems no matter what she does, it won’t stop harassing her. She then returns home, but begins to see things that cannot be explained. As the night goes on, her chances of living through the curse diminish.

 

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The second installment “The Telephone,” shows a beautiful young woman (Michèle Mercier) (in the Italian version, she’s a prostitute, but the American version doesn’t mention it at all), returning to her apartment for the evening. She receives two phone calls where the caller simply hangs up on her. The third time though a voice calls her by name, and tells her how beautiful she is, and that he’s watching her. He claims that she knows him but acts as if she doesn’t. The calls continue and get more explicit with each one. Rosy eventually finds out that the voice on the phone is Frank (Milo Quesada)(in the foreign version, Frank is her former pimp that she testified against and he went to prison-in the American version it’s ambiguous, and you get the impression Frank is a former lover perhaps, and he’s supposed to be dead).

 

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Rosy then calls her friend, Mary (Lydia Alfonsi), and asks her to come over because she’s frightened. Mary does come over, and believes that Rosy has gone off the deep end. After they talk, Mary provides Rosy with a knife for protection. After they have tea, Mary tells her that she slipped her a sedative to help her sleep. Later that night, an intruder breaks into the apartment and attempts to murder both women.

 

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Finally, we “The Wurdalak (a Russian term for vampire).” In 19th century Russia, we see Count D’Urfe (Mark Damon), riding through the countryside. He comes upon a horse with a man slumped over it, and a knife in his back. Upon chasing down the horse, he sees that the man also has been decapitated. He pulls the knife from the dead man’s back, and finds the nearest residence. He enters and is greeted harshly by Giorgio (Glauco Onorato), who claims that the blade belongs to his father. The Count takes Giorgio outside to explain things, and then another man, Pietro (his younger brother), appears and plunges a sword into the corpse. They tell the Count that they’ve been waiting for the return of their father as he’s been gone for a few days, trying to fight the wurdalak. They offer him shelter for the night, and he accepts.

 

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The Count was given a warning though, and he didn’t understand it. He then asks Sdenka (Susy Andersen), what the warning was all about. She explains the terror of the wurdalak, and how her father told them that if he didn’t return by 10pm on the fifth day of his leaving, they were not to let him in the house and should drive a lance through his heart. Around midnight, Gorca (Boris Karloff) returns. The family is wary but he does look normal…at first. He refuses food, talks about being very cold, etc. Before the night is over, Gorca will reveal his true colors.

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

 

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As I stated earlier, I’m not a huge fan of anthology films. This one is pretty awesome though, and Karloff has a lot to do with that fact. Just his segments before and after each tale are cool, but his presence in one of the tales is the icing on the cake. Quite honestly though, that tale was the one I felt went on a bit too long compared to the others. All three are solid though, and have good acting, sets, and musical score (Roberto Nicolosi).

Mario Bava is one of the most influential directors/writers of the century without question. Even in films with too many hands in the pot (like this one), his vision rises above the other noise, and generates something unique. I’ve only seen a few of his films, but the man had a knack for using low budgets to bring forth astounding horror films.

Look this one up if you haven’t seen it yet. The dubbed version is a little rough but definitely watchable, but if you can find the original version, definitely go that route. Oh, and did I mention Michèle Mercier (above and below) is in this film…

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Black Sunday (1960)

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Title: Black Sunday (A.K.A. The Mask of Satan)

Distributor: American International Pictures

Writer: Mario Bava (screenplay)

Director: Mario Bava

Producer: Massimo de Rita, Samuel Z. Arkoff

Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani

Released: August 1960

MPAA: UR

 

I always try my best to keep my promises, so here we go with another film by the great, Mario Bava! After reviewing Planet of the Vampires a few weeks ago, I slowly began searching through his catalog for more films that I knew would be gems. It didn’t take long for me to settle on this one. This being Bava’s first credited film as director (he had apparently done a couple of others uncredited), and the film that put Barbara Steele on the map (she’d done a couple of films, but small roles before this)!

The film caused quite a stir when it was released in 1960, as it was a bit over-the-top for the times. Bava took chances, and really amped up the shock value in this film. The opening scene is one of legend, and really sets the tone for the entire film. Now, let us traverse back in time to the year 1630…

 

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The film opens with a duo, Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and Javuto (Arturo Dominici), being put to death for witchcraft. The man leading the charge is Asa’s own brother! He puts his feelings aside and condemns the two to die for their crimes. The first thing he does is brand them with an “S” so that they are marked as Satan’s worshipers.  One of his minions places a mask with metal spikes on the inside over Asa’s face, while another man (wearing an executioners hood) uses a large hammer to pound in into her face! Just before this though, Asa puts a curse o her brother, and all that will follow in his bloodline. She is then burned at the stake, as a violent storm rages on. However, the storm puts out the flames before their bodies are burned.

 

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Fast-forward two centuries, and we see a carriage heading through the same woods where the  two were executed back in 1630. The two men inside, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi), and Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson), are on their way to a medical conference. The carriage breaks down, and the two doctors explore the area because they hear a strange sound emanating from an old cathedral. They find a tomb, and Kruvajan tells Gorobec that it is the tomb of the witch. Suddenly, the coachman asks for help repairing the carriage, so Gorobec leaves to help while Kruvajan continues searching the cathedral (a family crypt, actually). Kruvajan is attacked by a huge bat, but manages to kill the beast with his pistol.

 

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As the men are leaving, they are approached by a strange young woman who asks what they are doing there. Princess Katia (Barbara Steele), and Gorobec have an enchanted moment, then the good doctors leave, as the carriage is fixed. While Kruvajan was fighting the bat though, he was cut on some glass, and his blood seeped into the tomb of the witch. We see it seems to have an effect on her that might resuscitate her. Over at the castle of the Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani), he and his two children, Katia, and her brother, Constantine (Enrico Olivieri), are on edge on this very eerie night. The Prince is staring at a painting of Asa (their ancestor), and then believes it moves! The servant, Ivan (Tino Bianchi), is then told about the curse of Asa. Ivan tells him to cling to the cross, as it will protect him against evil.

 

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As the evening wears on, we see the body of Asa, as it begins to transform from the blood of Kruvajan. She then telepathically summons her former accomplice, Javuto, and sends him on a mission to attack Prince Vajda. Javuto rises from the grave, and does indeed come upon the Prince in the castle, but Vajda has enough wherewithal to grab his crucifix, and it frightens off the ghoul. The conflict leaves him mentally unstable though, and very vulnerable. They send a servant to get Dr. Kruvajan, but he’s intercepted by Javuto. Javuto then tricks Kruvajan into thinking he’s the servant, and takes him instead to the crypt, where he’s bitten by Asa!

 

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Now that Asa has a servant to carry out her devious deeds, things get very interesting. She also has plans for Princess Katia, as well. She believes that her blood will revitalize her completely, and then she’ll make everyone pay!

Can Gorbec and a few others stop Asa and Javuto before they can turn all the villagers into their slaves? Tune in to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

I’ve been aware of this film for quite some time now, but put off viewing it for some unknown reason. Now that I’ve seen it a few times, I really love it, and anyone that’s a fan of horror films from this era will as well. The only thing that was off was the voices that were dubbed. It bothered me for the first few minutes, but wore off after that time. The film (for its day) has a couple of violent scenes that moviegoers must have shrieked at. Bava really sets a creepy tone from the on-set of this film, both visually and mentally. For his first directorial credited film, it’s no wonder why studios were willing to give him some money to make films.

The musical score was very good too, and although the name Roberto Nicolosi is unfamiliar to me, he did a great job. Bava is also credited as the cinematographer, which makes perfect sense knowing his reputation for wanting to be in total control over that aspect of his films. And let’s be honest, it was probably for the best because he quite good at it. Barbara Steele is nothing short of gorgeous in this film, and you will want to see more of her films after you’ve seen this one, I guarantee it!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: Planet of The Vampires (1965)

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Title: Planet of the Vampires

Distributor: American International Pictures

Writers: Mario Bava, Alberto Bevilacqua, Antonio Roman, Callisto Cosulich, Rafael J. Salvia,

Director: Mario Bava

Producer: Fulvio Lucisano

Starring: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Àngel Aranda, Evi Marandi

Released: September 1965

MPAA: UR

 

 

It just recently hit me that I’ve never reviewed a film by legendary Italian horror master, Mario Bava! This man created the horror scene in Italy overnight. His contributions to the genre are undeniable, and he has the catalog to back it up. A quick Google search will net you dozens of films he made, and quite a few you should not only recognize, but have seen. One of these films is Planet of the Vampires.

Definitely look up some of his films (a few are on Netflix as of right now, I believe), they don’t have high production values typically, but the atmosphere is pretty cool. Well, that’s enough for now, let’s get to the film…

 

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The movie begins with two spaceships heading to a planet that’s emitting a distress signal. As they communicate with each other, suddenly the view screen goes dark, and communications are lost. The crew has no idea what’s going on, and before they know it, the ship is pulled down to the planet by force. The Captain, Mark Markary (Barry Sullivan), is very concerned because his brother is on the other ship. As the occupants begin to wake up from the crash, they go crazy, and attack each other. The only one that seems to be able to keep his wits about him is the captain. He eventually gets the crew under control, and they’re visibly shaken, especially Sanya (Norma Bengell).

 

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The first thing they do is set out to find the other ship and see if they’re alive. The planet seems to be a barren wasteland and nothing but a mysterious fog rolling around seems to be even remotely recognizable. After a quick distress call from the other ship, but the batteries that run the ship are dead, so they have to hot-foot it to the other ship. As they make their way across the rugged terrain, they realize that although it looks rocky, there is also lava in certain spots. Once the reach the other ship, they find two dead crew members outside. A victim of a fight from the same madness, no doubt.

 

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As they enter the ship, they find a few more crew members dead from the same affliction or something worse. They do notice that there are three crew members unaccounted for, and that definitely raises an eyebrow. They bury the dead, and then attempt to get into the bridge of the ship. They can’t gain access, and realize they need a cutting torch from their ship. They leave one crew member behind to stand guard (yeah, he’s basically a “red shirt”). When the others return from the ship, he’s gone. They then go inside the ship to search for the missing crew member, and now, the bridge is open. Not only that, there were four bodies they couldn’t bury that they left in there, and they’re gone.

 

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Back outside the ship, the one crew member standing guard sees something that makes her cry out, and then weep. The others rush outside, but she’s basically having a nervous breakdown. As they run back to their ship, the dead that were buried rise up from their graves and look like they’ve been to hell and back. The crew decides that tomorrow they’ll begin to try to fix the ship to try to escape this planet. As they sleep, there are two guards posted. They hear noises, but only see illuminated globes floating around. As the Captain heads outside to check on the guards, one of them shrieks, and when the captain and the other guard investigates, they find the guy torn up real bad, and as he’s in his death throes, he insists that the captain of the other ship did this to him.

 

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As night goes on, more and more crew members get slaughtered, and eventually, we find out that not only are the dead rising, but that they are possessed by an alien life form that wants nothing more than to get off of this planet. And they do it by any means necessary! The engineer, Wes, believes that he can reignite the batteries, and get the ship going. He’d better, because if he can’t, they might not make it through another night!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Along with another film I recently reviewed (It! The Terror from Beyond Space), this one is frequently credited with partially inspiring Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic, Alien. Both of these films definitely gave him some ideas, no doubt. I think the budget was $50 for his movie. I’m not kidding, and if you doubt me, read up on the production of this one, you’ll be blown away by the way this movie looks compared to the budget. Very moody, and atmospheric, and the fog machines coupled with the multicolored lights really make the set look cool. The pulsing sound also reminds me of another classic horror flick. “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” has that ominous pulsating music to it as well, that sounds like the heartbeat of the devil himself!

The actors did a decent job, but nothing Oscar worthy. Sullivan and Bengell are pretty good, and carry most of the scenes. The space ships are a little disappointing, but again, when you look at the budget, you can understand why. The dark corridors of the ship were frightening, but the technology was very sub-par.  Bava certainly knows how to make something out of nothing, sort of like Carpenter did with his first few films (and Hammer, Amicus, AIP, etc.).

 

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Grab some popcorn, turn down the lights, and sit down and watch this classic sci-fi/horror flick. Then look up more of Bava’s films from his heyday, you wont be sorry!

 

Click here for the trailer!