Standing on a blasted landscape, our host Boris Karloff introduces three horror stories he claims are based on works by Tolstoy, De Maupassant and Chekhov. He also warns us to beware of vampires, because they do exist. The first story sees Rosy (Michèle Mercier) arriving home at her apartment one night to be menaced by an unkown telephone caller. The second features the vampires Karloff has warned you about, and the third details revenge from beyond the grave.
Yes, this is the film that Ozzy Osbourne and his rock star friends took the name for their band from. Written by Marcello Fondato and Alberto Bevilacqua from director Mario Bava's outlines, the stories aren't really based on classic literature by Tolstoy, De Maupassant and Chekhov, but no matter, as they stand up as compelling tales of terror in their own right, adeptly weaving the atmosphere of nightmares. There are two versions of the film available, the Italian one and the American A.I.P. one, which swaps the order of the stories around to put the powerful Karloff episode at the end, and makes "The Telephone" more supernatural in tone.
"The Telephone" has Mercier the subject of not only the unseen caller's voyeurism, but the audience's as well, as she casually undresses and runs around in her nightie while alone in her flat. As with all of the tales, it's not a matter of "if" something terrible will happen, but "when", and as the caller reveals more and more about what Rosy is doing, it's as if he is watching her every move. There is a twist halfway though, but "The Telephone" really needed one at the end, too, being rather straightforward, straining credibility when Rosy doesn't call the police right away, and instead turns to a friend she has fallen out with. Who knew putting a handkerchief over the phone made you an impressionist?
"The Wurdulak" is a terrifically doomladen piece of work, with Count Vladmire (Mark Damon) discovering a body with a dagger stuck in its back in the Russian countryside. He ends up at the home of a family waiting for their patriarch Gorca (Karloff) to return, and they are alarmed that the dead body may have been a particular type of vampire, and that Gorca's broken promise to return before five days may make him one as well, a bloodsucker who preys on those he most loved in life. Karloff puts in a superbly creepy performance here, by turns aggressively avuncular and simply aggressive, and the green glow on his features only enhances his sinister appearance. You can almost feel the bite of the howling winds, and there's a genuinely chilling scene with Gorca's grandchild wailing to be let into the house.
You'd think the final story, "A Drop of Water", would be hard pressed to beat the previous one, but it has a damn good try. Jacqueline Pierreux is a nurse who is called out one stormy night to attend to an old lady medium who has suddenly died, with rumours going around that the spirits killed her. The busybody nurse isn't having any of it, but as she prepares the corpse in its burial dress, her eyes alight on an expensive, jewelled ring on the deceased's finger and steals it. What follows is a beautifully sustained exercise in scares, as the nurse returns home to be terrorised by otherwise mundane occurences - dripping taps, the lights going out - which escalates towards an unwelcome visitor. She should have known from the tarot cards and numerous cats that you don't steal from dead mediums. Black Sabbath doesn't have a strong start, but the two following stories are essential viewing. And in the Italian version, you get a delightful joke at the end. Music by Roberto Nicolosi, or Les Baxter in the U.S. one.
Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.
Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.