Imagine it if you will, my fellow ghouls. It’s a typically smoggy, nasty August day in the industrial suburb of Aston, Birmingham UK circa 1969. You are one of four local, knock-around guys who have done the typical early twenties thing and formed a band. You’ve gotten some gigs. You’ve got a look. You’ve even developed a thunderous, down-shifted, distortion-heavy type of sound which is loud enough to be heard over the din of the warring skinheads and leather longhairs who frequent your shows.
But the problem is… The name of your band is Earth. EARTH. It makes you sound like a bunch of rejects from a production of Hair. Worst of all, there’s another more famous band with the same damn name! This simply won’t do. You’re sitting around wondering what to do about this hideous turn of events. You drink a lot of beer.
Your bass guitar player and lyricist, who has spent the better part of the last year delving into the occult fiction of Dennis Wheatley (The Devil Rides Out), looks out the soot smeared windows of your practice hall towards the local movie theater. There he sees the marquee title for Mario Bava’s influential 1963 color triumph, I Tre Volti Della Paura (translated: The Three Faces of Fear) which some AIP censor in his uncommon wisdom has decided to call Black Sabbath.
Dark gears turn in his mind. Soon you have a song. And a name. And a uniquely strange connection to one of the classics in the history of horror.
The Three Faces of Fear was Bava’s first, full attempt at a Technicolor process film. After his black-and-white masterpieces, Three Faces partners Bava’s eye for detail with a number bizarrely arranged color worlds. Shot by Ubaldo Terzaro, (who would become a Bava family favorite) the film lives up to its billing by giving the viewer three, distinct vignettes dealing with terror.
The Telephone (starring Michele Mercier) is the first offering, a psycho thriller involving not just warring lesbian lovers, but also a jealous husband straight out of the can with revenge on his mind. The last, The Drop of Water (with Jacqueline Pierreux) has a sticky fingered nurse getting the turnabout from one of her dead patients. But it’s the middle section, The Wurdalak, which makes the film a classic as it contains the last, great performance of horror film mainstay Boris Karloff.
Karloff had slid into relative obscurity by the 60’s but Bava’s craft pulls one more great performance from the black-and-white veteran. Playing an Eastern-European, recently-undead vampire, Karloff returns to his family homestead to wreak havoc and its terrorized survivors. The aged star pulls of some chilling moments as he systematically takes the lives of those who were closest to him. The final scene between the wandering stranger (played by Mark Damon) and Karloff’s now-undead daughter prefigures the sickening trend towards supernatural romance that now dominates our bookstands. (Excuse me. I think I threw up in my mouth a little.)
Three Faces gives Bava a chance to stretch his story-telling muscles while paying tribute to Asian masters like Kurasowa. According to legend, Quentin Tarantino in his video store clerk days saw Three Faces and decided that he would use the multi-story format to tell a story of his own one day. But I digress from our original digression…
So, did Mario Bava invent Heavy Metal (for better or worse)? Well, as far as anybody has determined, Il Maestro never knew about the influence his little movie had on the music world . As for our beer-drinking bandmates, no one can recall if they actually saw the movie. C’mon, that was a LOT of lost brain cells ago.
The current version of this blog running on TDW is especially warming to our cold, dark hearts as after nearly fifty years, the boys from Birmingham called it a career with their 2017 tour THE END. The Hands of Doom shook the earth for the last time just down the road from where that fateful marquee gave the spark that changed music forever. And just like Mario Bava, Toni Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward (you wuz robbed, Nibby) and yes, John “Ozzy” Osbourne were often imitated, underestimated and revered, but never duplicated.
Let’s hope that if the rumored upcoming film bio of a certain nonsense-muttering, reality-show Prince of Darkness comes to fruition that the director is savvy enough to throw some metal-horns Mario’s way. (Sharon, are you listening?)
Thanks to Martin Popoff and his excellent musical biography Doom Let Loose for helping to set the historical mood for this review.