Black Sabbath (1963)

Food: (Drink)

Halloween Cocktail #6:

Due to the Victorian architecture and elaborate interiors throughout this entire film, I think one of the most crucial elements of the cocktail this week is the glassware. Maybe get yourself something like these ( to dress up a simple glass of vino.

Instead of a cocktail, this film deserves a historical pairing that makes one feel like they’ve transported to a medieval castle. Read about each of these common alcoholic beverages to understand how they were embraced during centuries before at ( and pick your poison.

Halloween Italian Horror Film Series #6:

“Black Sabbath” (1963), also titled “I tre volti della paura” which means “The Three Faces of Fear,” (a much more suitable name), was directed by Mario Bava, who is considered by some to be the pioneer of the Golden Age of Italian Horror, despite not being as famous in horror cinema history as Dario Argento, Wes Craven or John Carpenter. His contributions already to this series include “Black Sunday” (1960) and “Blood and Black Lace” (1964), two films which equally exemplify his knack for using light and unique camera techniques to capture the most interesting version of every shot. Though, “Black Sunday” was all shot in black and white, “Black Sabbath” was his first to incorporate the use of color, where he went on to make a point of subverting the typical expectations of film Noir, and filmed “Blood and Black Lace” with the full spectrum of technicolor even in its most somber cinematic moments. He treats the lights as another character in the film, creating an entire atmosphere that changes the mood of the story. Further, whether it is zooming, focusing and re-focusing, lingering panning shots or long takes, Mario Bava or the cinematographers under his direction (in this case Ubaldo Terzano) always manages to transform a scene from a simple sequence of events or dialogue into something truly memorable.

This 1963 picture is a horror anthology, telling three separate stories with a different set of characters that are all worked around the same themes of one being haunted, feeding on mans most genuine fears by generating a sense of empathy between the audience and the people on screen. The first vignette is “The Telepone,” starring Michèle Mercier as a French call girl who returns to her apartment late at night and begins to receive a series of increasingly sinister phone calls. The second is “The Wurdulak” (with Boris Karloff, who also plays the introductory narrator), the tale of a living cadaver that thirsts for the blood of his own loved ones. The third and final piece is “The Drop of Water” about a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux), who is haunted by strange occurrences after stealing the ring off of one of the corpses she was meant to prepare for burial.

“The Telephone” is the most accessible story, and for that, probably the most frightening. Rosy (Mercier) is a sex worker whose testimony sent her former pimp to prison, so when she discovers that he has just escaped, her terror is unsurprising, but gratuitous. That is until she begins to receive a phone calls from an unseen stalker who is able to describe her every move. This story has since been recreated and retold in various forms, and seeing that the story at its core is so insidious, it never fails to cause a reaction. Likely inspired by this, and the folk legend called “the babysitter and the man in the house” that was popularized in the 1960’s, “When A Stranger Calls” emerged in 1979 and then remade in 2006. Wes Craven paid homage to this storyline with the first twenty minutes of his beloved “Scream” in 1996.

“The Wurdulak” takes us for a more classic and gothic turn, transporting the film to 19th century Russia, amidst a foggy forest in the middle of the night. A young man named Vladimir Durfe (Mark Damon) comes across a dead body, beheaded and stabbed in the heart, and then takes the knife and finds the nearest cottage to seek refuge. Upon arrival, he meets Giorgio (Glauco Onorato), who immediately recognizes the knife as belonging to his missing father. Surrounded by his family, including his wife (Rika Dialina), their young son Ivan, Giorgio’s younger brother Pietro (Massimo Righi), and sister Sdenka (Susy Andersen), the clan nervously awaits their patriarchs return. Eventually, he does return.  Gorca (Boris Karloff) rejoins the family to their great relief, but he is disheveled and unkempt. This portion of the film is based on the “Wurdulac” in Slavic mythology, which is a type of Russian vampire who must consume the blood of its loved ones and convert its family to survive. This apparently originated in the novella “The Family of the Vourdalak” by Alexey K. Tolstoy. It is a quintessential spooky tale of blood thirsty corpses and forbidden forests and it’s gothic setting is enough to get one in the spirit of Halloween any time of the year.

Lastly, “The Drop of Water” brings us to London in the early 1900’s, where Nurse Helen Chester (Pierreaux) spots a sparkling sapphire on the finger of a corpse she is prepping for the grave and decides to swipe it. Immediately afterward, a glass breaks and a buzzing fly harasses her. She returns to her home and the oddities only intensify. Like in the 2001 film, “Amélie,” when the main character gaslights her grocer by changing out his slippers for a smaller size and the handlebars on his door, Nurse Helen Chester cannot understand the strange occurrences she is experiencing around her home, and feels like she may be descending into madness. Though, she is not fully aware of it yet, the decision to snatch the ring of the deceased may have more dire consequences that a guilty conscience, but it will not be long before she finds out.

It is impossible to talk about “Black Sabbath” without mentioning the impeccable production design by Riccardo Domenici. Domenici has over 40 films to his name, his most notable being “Zorro” in 1975, and all of his work showcases his elegant taste and attention to detail. Each vignette in this film incorporates elaborate interiors that are just as beautiful as they are effective in capturing the ambience needed to amplify the tale. He designs the rooms in each home with an ornate flare, combining dramatic art pieces and lavish materials in an almost understated manner. There is no question that the film is significantly more beautiful and cinematic because of his efforts and all the terror in the world could not deter me from wanting to live inside one of these rooms.

“Black Sabbath” is a brilliant achievement in Italian horror, and cinema overall. Embracing an unconventional method of three-unrelated-part storytelling and grotesque, gothic narratives shown in colorful canvases, Mario Bava creates something truly unique and creative. Finalizing the film with a light-hearted scene with his recurring narrator, almost as if to say, “You’ve made it,” the film leaves you with a sigh of relief – that is, until you try to go to sleep that night.

One response to “Black Sabbath (1963)”

  1. […] Bava’s “Blood and Black Lace”(1964) was one of the first true Giallos. That movie and “Black Sabbath” (1963), also titled “I tre volti della paura” which means “The Three Faces of Fear,” is […]


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