#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)

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#222 Billy Liar

Watched: March 02 2019

Director: John Schlesinger

Starring: Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Gwendolyn Watts, Helen Fraser, Wilfred Pickles, Mona Washbourne, Ethel Griffies, Finlay Currie

Year: 1963

Runtime: 1h 38min

Billy

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Meet Billy (Courtenay). Billy lives with his parents and works at an undertakers’. Billy juggles girlfriends/fiancées Barbara (Fraser) and Rita (Watts) while harbouring a secret crush on free spirit and original manic pixie dream girl Liz (Christie). He also lies through his teeth.

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Why on earth this lovely, innocent girl would let this man bring her to a cemetery is beyond us. Here, she clearly only has a few minutes left to live.

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Billy has an imaginary world where he is not only king, but pretty much every inhabitant, at least any person of note. This kingdom of Ambrosia is his escape from his boring, average life, as well as an outlet for his creativity. And a source of frustration for his fed up family.

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Who hasn’t dreamt of being a hero, loved and admired by men and women alike?

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Sexually frustrated ladies man, compulsive liar, rebellious teen and part time sociopath, Billy’s fantasies often end in him gunning down everyone around him, especially those who inconvenience him. He lies to protect himself and to seem more interesting. He’s not too good with criticism or confrontation, and he dreams of a more exciting life which he is too scared to actually pursue.

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We get it, Billy. It’s much easier to be the fictional ruler of Ambrosia than to actually go out and take chances with your life, risking defeat. Go Liz!

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Oh, did we mention he also tries to drug one his girlfriends to have sex with her? Which definitely ranks in the top three of “the worst thing that can happen when a man brings a woman to a cemetery”-list.

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Lucky for her he bought bad drugs. And also didn’t know which part of her to suck…

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You can probably tell that we’re not quite sold on the character of Billy… In fact, we found him somewhat sinister at times. However, there are still a lot of things to enjoy about this movie. As always, we loved Tom Courtenay’s face(s), we loved the banter in the funeral home, the twist dancing, and the flashes between reality and Billy’s fantasy world.

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For all his faults, it’s hard to completely hate a man who is so overly dramatic and extra.

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We also liked Liz. Where Billy had only his dreams, Liz had the guts and the follow-through. He talked a good game, but she actually went out and did things with her life. The only thing that confused us about her was why she would be interested in someone like him.

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“Shit! I just realized I’m Julie Motherfucking Christie! So long, sucker!”

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It’s an interesting movie and well worth watching. Apart from his treatment of the women in his life (this goes for girlfriends as well as his mother and grandmother), Billy is relatable in a lot of ways. Frustrated with his mundane working class existence, he retreats into his fantasy world where he can actually achieve and experience things. We can understand that. But like the demolition work going on all around him, he has a destructive streak, and it’s a dark one…

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Why can’t it be both..?

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What we learned: There’s a fine line between having an active imagination and being a compulsive liar.

Next time: Black Sabbath (1963)

#221 8 1⁄2/Otto e mezzo

Watched: February 28 2019

Director: Federico Fellini

Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Barbara Steele

Year: 1963

Runtime: 2h 18min

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Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) is a famous film director in the middle of an existential crisis and artistic drought. His new project is going nowhere and neither is his love life.

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His flying lessons are going swimmingly however, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice

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Between balancing his mistress (Milo), wife (Aimée), producers, set designers, and potential starring actors, the director is buckling and cannot get himself to make any decisions about his next movie.

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“I need hands! Lots of hands! And frozen faces! And a certain Bergman quality to it all. Or, on second thought, I need a space ship and a bunch of aliens.”

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When confronted by the reality of his life (and his affair), he dreams himself away to a fantasy land where every woman he’s ever met worships the ground he walks on, get along with each other, and (more or less) voluntarily remove themselves from his view when they reach an undesirable age.

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And if they fail to comply, there’s always the whip

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Can religion help? The cardinal in the sauna? The dream woman he’s seen as the star of his movie? His (patient) wife, Luisa? Barbara Steele? The memory of his first sexually charged encounter as a child? In short, will Guido get his groove back?

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“Looking for fun and feeling groovy
Ba da-da da-da da-da, feeling groovy”

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8 12 is gorgeous to look at, and very deservedly won an Oscar for best costume design. The architecture is also outstanding, and there are loads of shots of small people in huge structures throughout the film.

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Huge crumbling structures littered with tiny insignificant people. Or something.

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We’re still in love with Barbara Steele and her face, and we were intrigued by the opening (which reminded us of Bergman – our doggo would have loved it!), especially the arms on the bus and the frozen people. We loved the voice-over, the dream/memory-sequences, the sauna, and the dance in the end, which also brought us back to Bergman.

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“Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga, I know you can’t control yourself any longer” – Ingmar Bergman, 1957

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What we learned: Sometimes, a clown orchestra is what you need.

Next time: Billy Liar (1963)

#220 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Watched: January 7 2019

Director: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono, Anna Lee, Maidie Norman

Year: 1962

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Oh, God, we love this movie! We’ve been looking forward to rewatching it ever since we first decided to let the list control the next ten years of our lives, and it was worth the wait.

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If we are to be truly honest with ourselves, this will be us by the end of this project. The only question that remains: who’s who…

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Jane (Davies) and Blanche (Crawford) are sisters, and as children Jane was a vaudeville star while Blanche lived in her sister’s shadow. Twenty years later, their roles have reversed, and Blanche has become a successful movie star while Jane has turned into an alcoholic, washed-up has-been.

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Personally, we blame the parents.

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Then, one fateful night, Blanche is paralyzed in an accident blamed on Jane, and the two start a reclusive life by themselves in a mansion where Jane takes care of the increasingly isolated Blanche.

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“My nursing experience includes singing strangely romantic duets with my dad as a child and dressing like a toddler even though I’m pushing 60.” “You’re hired!”

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Jane, resentful of her more successful sister, becomes obsessed with recapturing her glory days as a child star, and hires pianist Edwin Flagg (Buono) to help her revive her act. She cuts her sister completely off from the outside world by removing her telephone, and starves her by feeding her rats and dead pets.

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“Oh, I couldn’t possibly have another rat. I must watch my figure.”

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Both main performances in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are spectacular, and that’s probably the main reason this film is so incredibly engaging. Bette Davies as Jane is deliciously deranged and demented, and is just a joy to watch.

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It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sad

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Joan Crawford is (almost) equally engaging as the victimized Blanche, a more toned down and possibly more challenging role. However, we grew increasingly frustrated by her uselessness. Seriously, woman! You know your sister has completely lost it! And that is as hard as you’re prepared to fight???

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Just scream bloody murder down the phone, you useless lady!

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Blanche is not the only frustratingly incompetent character in the movie – pretty much everyone, from neighbour Mrs Bates (Lee) who’s too polite to interfere, to maid Elvira Stitt (Norman) who underestimates Jane’s madness despite her knowledge of both sisters, fail to help Blanche and stop Jane due to being basically completely fucking useless.

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“I realise that you are batshit crazy and I suspect you are torturing and starving your sister, but instead of calling the police, I am going to snoop around a bit and confront you unarmed.”

 

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Watch it for the performances, the characters, the costumes, the hair and make-up, the story, the music and the tension. And to have a really good (if frustrated) time!

What we learned: It’s a good thing none of us are super successful…

Next time: 8 1/2 (1963)