Monday, January 25, 2010

Final Girl Film Club - Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

This month's entry in the Final Girl Film Club is an anthology film made in 1963 by the great Mario Bava, Black Sabbath (or The Three Faces of Fear). There's an intro and outro to the three tales, presided over by none other than Boris Karloff, who assures us that monsters are real and all around us. Also, that vampires like going to the movies, so there could be one sitting right next to you, muahahahahaha!

Some fun trivia: - Black Sabbath the movie is indeed where the band Black Sabbath got its name. - Black Sabbath inspired Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary in their writing of Pulp Fiction.


And yet another plot rendered obsolete by the invention of cell phones and caller ID. I sometimes miss the days of less technology, when something like The Telephone would have been truly unsettling for a contemporary audience.

This is a fairly good Polanski-esque real-world (i.e., not supernatural) thriller with some interesting twists, especially for so short a story. Bava, as usual, displays his wonderful eye for sets and of course for lovely women. This starts as your standard "threatening phone call" plot, and at first I couldn't help thinking of the silly story of The Viper, who keeps calling this woman at her apartment ("This is The Viper! I'm coming up!") and is mistaken for someone with ill intent until he arrives with a bucket and says "I am The Viper! I'm here to vipe and vash your vindows!" Yes, I'm well aware of how lame it is, but I thought of it every time the phone rang at the beginning of this story.

So basically Rosy is receiving some threatening phone calls, which eventually no longer remind me of The Viper but instead of the famous opening of Scream with Drew Barrymore. The caller seems to be close by, apparently spying on Rosy, and says he's going to kill her. Rosy calls her ... friend, Mary (okay, ex-lover), for help, but the caller (who we eventually surmise is a man she knows named Frank, who has recently escaped from prison after Rosy was responsible for putting him there) seems to be aware of this as well. There's a nice couple of twists that I won't spoil, but they do have some classic flaws that force you to draw your own conclusions and connect some dots. That's really the only thing I can say against it, as it's otherwise a very effective bit of suspense.

This works well on its own, but if he had wished, Bava could have expanded it into a feature. The spare details leave lots of room to explore the characters and the way their lives intertwine. In fact, some viewers seem to have done a bit on their own. For instance, on the Wikipedia page, the article's author has taken an exchange between Mary and Rosy and extrapolated it to draw the conclusion that Rosy is actually a prostitute who has testified against her pimp (Frank). That is certainly a possibility, though there isn't enough to go on in the story to actually make that a solid conclusion, but it's a place you could go if you wanted to expand this story.

Where The Telephone is a story that could have been made into a full-length film, The Wurdalak feels like a story that should have been. There is enough story here to fill a feature, and the main flaw is that it's simply too much to cram into what is already the longest of the three shorts. The story follows a Russian Count, who finds a decapitated corpse on the side of the road. The corpse belonged to a "wurdalak", a living corpse that is sustained by human blood (in other words, a vampire). The wurdalak most craves the blood of those he loved in his life. The Count, Vladimir, stops at a small cottage inhabited by a family who is anxiously awaiting the return of the patriarch, Gorcha (played by Boris Karloff), who has gone out to kill the wurdalak - successfully, it appears - but who warns his family that if he is not back in five days, they will have to kill him, because he will have become a wurdalak himself. Don't ask me what's so special about five days - this is one of many things that could have been better handled in a longer film.

Gorcha returns at the stroke of midnight on the fifth day, and sure enough, the family's worst fears are confirmed. They are reluctant to kill him, because they love him, but this reluctance brings terrible consequences as he kills his son Pietro and kidnaps and eventually kills his little grandson Ivan. Pietro is staked and beheaded, to prevent him from returning as a wurdalak, but the child's mother will not permit such a thing to happen to her little boy, so they bury him without taking the extra steps. Of course, he rises from the grave as a wurdalak, and in one of the saddest things I've ever seen in a horror film, goes back to the house and begs to be let back in, which will naturally lead to the demise of the rest of the family who are unwilling to act against one another.

This is a surprisingly strong vampire story, and it reminds me once again of one of the many things that bothers me about the Sparkleverse. One thing that unites all other vampire tales is that there is a definite karmic cost to being a vampire. Vampirism is a curse, It's not like a bad haircut or being from the wrong side of the tracks. What strikes me the most about The Wurdalak is how sad it is, how tragic, that their love for one another turns them into monsters.


The shortest and strongest of the three. This is most people's favorite, I think, and for good reason. It could really stand alone as a short film, and it's a GREAT ghost story that you could totally imagine being told by a campfire, except that you really have to see it to get the full effect.

A nurse goes to the deathbed of her patient to prepare the body for the funeral. She notices a ring on the woman's finger, and while the housekeeper is in another room, she steals it. Suddenly, she notices a fly buzzing around, but this doesn't really surprise her, as it's perfectly natural for flies to be around a dead body, but it unsettles her for some reason. When she arrives home, she hears the sound of dripping water. She goes to the bathtub and stops the dripping from the faucet. The sound stops. She goes into another room and begins to hear the dripping again. She goes to a sink and does the same thing, and it stops. Until she leaves the room and it starts again. She notices her umbrella, still wet from the rain and dripping on the floor. She picks it up and shakes it out, lying it flat so it won't drip anymore and finally, permanently, the dripping stops. But she's pretty wigged. Adding to the sense of dread is some strange light effects coming in through the window, as if this nurse, living in the (as best I can tell from the costume) early 20th century, is next door to an all-nite Krispy Kreme.

What follows is a classic ghost story "gotcha" sequence that's made all the more frightening by the creepy visage of the dead woman (pictured above). This was apparently all done with a mannequin, but GAH is it ever terrifying. There's a cool little twist at the end that suggests someone else might meet the same fate as the poor nurse. Bottom line - don't mess with the dead. They'll get you!


Great little trilogy of films. Thanks as always to FinalGirl for the impetus to watch it.

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