#223 Black Sabbath/I tre volti della paura/The Three Faces of Terror

Watched: February 12 2019

Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Michèle Mercier, Boris Karloff, Lidia Alfonsi, Mark Damon, Susy Andersen, Massimo Righi, Rika Dialyna, Glauco Onorato, Jacqueline Pierreux, Milly

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 32min

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After a two week hiatus (been busy being fabulous in New York!), we’re finally back with Mario Bava’s fantastic horror anthology Black Sabbath.

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We’re so excited right now!

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Black Sabbath consists of three separate stories, all tied together by host Boris Karloff, which are freely adapted from classic tales by Tolstoy, Maupassant and Chekhov. The order they appear in depends on which version of the movie you watch (there are at least two), so we will present them according to the version we watched.

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We’re currently working on a plan on how to manage to live in all houses featured in this gorgeous movie

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The first story, “The Drop of Water,” is by Anton Chekhov. An elderly medium has died while in a trance during a seance, and when preparing her body for burial, nurse Helen Chester (Pierreux) steals a ring from the deceased. Big mistake.

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Given the scepticism with which she views the dead woman, we suspect she knew she would be haunted anyway so she just went for it.

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Guy de Maupassant’s contribution is “The Telephone” (or is it? There is some debate as to whether Maupassant ever wrote anything like this). Rosy (Mercier) is at home in her apartment (another place we’re moving into as soon as the payment goes through) when she starts receiving strange phone calls from her former pimp. Instead of calling the police (who she probably doesn’t trust given her profession), she calls old friend Mary (Alfonsi) for help. Big mistake.

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“Darling! Calm your nerves with this drink I mixed you with my gloved hands, leave the phone off the hook and let’s pretend we never had a falling out in the past.”

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The third and final story, “The Wurdulak,” is credited to Aleksei Tolstoy (not Leo, mind you). In 19th century Russia, rider Vladimir D’Urfe (Damon) finds a backstabbed body on a horse. He brings him to the nearest house to find that the body belongs to a Turkish bandit believed to be a Wurdulak. A Wurdulak, the farmers explain, is a vampire who feeds on his or her loved ones.

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Farmer or not, Sdenka takes the time to put on a full face of make-up every day. You know, just in case a single nobleman happens to stop by the house with a body he found on the way, only to fall madly in love with her.

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The father of the family, Gorca (Karloff), has been in pursuit of the Wurdulak and has given strict orders not to let him in the house if he is gone for too long as he will have been turned. When he returns too late, with a significant personality change, the family naturally lock him out and take every precaution to stay safe while plotting how to kill him.

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“Leeet me iiiiiin”

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Just kidding! They let him in, let him play with his grandchild, follow his commands, go to bed without locking any doors and are then flabbergasted when it turns out he tries to drink their blood. Then again, this is a family who implicitly trusts an unknown Eastern European Count called Vlad while in the middle of a vampire crisis.

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Not to victim blame, but is it really a good idea to drink yourself to sleep in the living room when you suspect your dad, roaming the same house, is a vampire..?

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We’re suckers for horror anthologies and Mario Bava, so there’s really nothing here we didn’t love. The humour between segments is silly and fun, and the entire film is very aesthetically pleasing, as giallo movies tend to be. A lot of this also feels oddly modern, as if it could have been made today but by someone trying to make it look older (think Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace or “The Devil of Christmas” episode of Inside No. 9). We loved all the apartments (as stated, we’re moving into all of them), the colours, the creepy child and the ghost. Love, love, love this!

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Boris Karloff wants YOU to join us in celebrating Black Sabbath

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What we learned: Don’t steal from the dead. And don’t let your emotions make your decisions for you when you intellectually know better.

Next time: Charade (1963)

#195 Shoot the Piano Player

Watched: August 26 2018

Director: François Truffaut

Starring: Charles Aznavour, Marie Dubois, Nicole Berger, Michèle Mercier, Albert Rémy

Year: 1960

Runtime: 1h 21min

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Charlie Kohler/Edouard Saroyan (Aznavour) is a piano player in a dive bar, but a former classical concert pianist. When his brother Chico (Rémy) seeks him out to shelter him from a couple of gangsters he’s pissed off, Charlie gets dragged back into the criminal family he’s avoided for years.

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“Just ran into the weirdest dude out there. Told me all about his marriage and his wife, completely unprompted. Oh, and also, I’m chased by some thugs and I need you to help me escape.”

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Simultaneously, the shy and slightly awkward musician strikes up a relationship with waitress Léna (Dubois), but the gangsters follow them one night and the couple are kidnapped. However, they get on surprisingly well with their kidnappers.

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Although not as well as Charlie gets on with his friendly neighbourhood prostitute next door

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They get out of that fix unharmed, but as the gangsters become more and more determined to use Chico’s family members to track him down, Charlie realises he must flee and leave his girlfriend behind. Lest she ends up like his first wife…

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“So, first there was the wife. That ended badly.” “How badly?” Well, she’s dead. Then there’s my neighbour Clarisse, but she’s more of a very good friend.” “How good?” “Oh, very, very good… But I swear I’m actually a good guy. Just very unlucky.”

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Shoot the Piano Player is very different from our last encounter with Truffaut, The 400 Blows. It’s a bit Noiry, with the flashbacks, the past the main character cannot escape, the general bleakness and the occasional voiceover narration.

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The trigger happy gangsters complete the picture (we loved them, although their casualness and easy conversation with their victims made them even scarier than your normal movie thugs)

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It’s often sad, dark and depressing, but there are some fantastic laugh-out-loud moments which help alleviate the whole affair somewhat. We’ve been missing the noirs a bit lately (there were so many of them for a while there!), so we really enjoyed this one. Worth watching for fans of French New Wave, Film Noir, thrillers, dramas, and Truffaut in general.

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Or fans of pianos. Or, indeed, people who hate piano players with a fiery vengeance.

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What we learned: Even super polite and likable kidnappers can be ruthless killers.

Next time: Spartacus (1960)