4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Mario Bava Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

This October, I am going to be using our 4 Shots From 4 Films feature to pay tribute to some of my favorite horror directors, in alphabetical order!  That’s right, we’re going from Argento to Zombie in one month!

Today’s director is Mario Bava, the maestro of Italian horror and one of the most influential and important filmakers of all time!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Black Sunday (1960, dir by Mario Bava)

Black Sabbath (1963, directed by Mario Bava)

Kill, Baby, Kill (1966, directed by Mario Bava)

Shock (1977, dir by Mario Bava)

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday Mario Bava!


4 Shots from 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. Today is the birthday of Mario Bava (1914-1980), Italian maestro of the horror and giallo genres. Here are 4 Shots from some of my favorite Bava films:

                                                      Black Sunday (1960)

                                                          Black Sabbath (1963)

                                                          Danger: Diabolik (1968)

                                                       Lisa and the Devil (1972)

4 Shots From Horror History: Psycho, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Awful Dr. Orlof, Black Sabbath


This October, I’m going to be doing something a little bit different with my contribution to 4 Shots From 4 Films.  I’m going to be taking a little chronological tour of the history of horror cinema, moving from decade to decade.

Today, we start the 1960s!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Psycho (1960, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Psycho (1960, dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

THe Pit and the Pendulum (1961, dir by Roger Corman)

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961, dir by Roger Corman)

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962, dir by Jesus Franco)

The Awful Dr. Orlof (1962, dir by Jesus Franco)

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

4 Shots from 4 Films: Happy Birthday, Boris Karloff!


 

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking. The late, great King of Horror Boris Karloff was born on this date in 1887. Here’s 4 Shots from 4 Films in his memorable career:

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bedlam (1946)

Bedlam (1946)

Black Sabbath (1964)

Black Sabbath (1964)

Targets (1968)

Targets (1968)

Song of the Day: War Pigs (by Black Sabbath)


BlackSabbath

“War Pigs” is the classic heavy metal song by the godfathers of heavy metal itself, Black Sabbath. This song will kick you in the nuts from it’s ominous bass heavy intro right through one of the best guitar solos in the middle right up to it’s epic ending. It’s not a surprise that many heavy metal fans both new and old still consider this one of the best heavy metal songs ever. It also highlights Ozzy Osbourne as a frontman who became a template for future metal frontmen everywhere. Hearing him sing out the lyrics reminds us that he wasn’t a mumbling, drug-scarred reality tv show personlality. Ozzy was the face of metal and his voice in the early albums of Black Sabbath was one of the best in the business.

The song itself is actually an anti-war song despite many uses of it in films, tv and trailers highlighting war and violence. Last year’s 300: Rise of An Empire literally reveled in using this song for it’s end credits. Which makes me wonder if those who actually listened to this song actually listened to the lyrics after the first verse.

The lyrics speaks of the inequality of war and how those most willing to begin one are the rich and powerful (meaning they would never ever be put into harm’s way) while those who do the killing and dying are the poor and downtrodden. The interesting thing about this song is how it’s early version was not an anti-war one but just a metal song about witches and black magic rituals. The early name for the song was “Walpurgis” but with the band already being seen as Satanic by puritanical groups in England and in the US they were convinced to change the title to “War Pigs” and adjusted the lyrics to make it the anti-war song it is today.

No matter it’s history and backstory, “War Pigs” remain one of the essential heavy metal songs that any prospective heavy metal newbie needs to listen to and study.

War Pigs

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death’s construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord yeah!

Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor

Time will tell on their power minds
Making war just for fun
Treating people just like pawns in chess
Wait ’til their judgment day comes
Yeah!

(guitar solo)

Now in darkness world stops turning
Ashes where the bodies burning
No more war pigs have the power
Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of judgment, God is calling
On their knees the war pig’s crawling
Begging mercy for their sins
Satan laughing spreads his wings
Oh lord yeah!

(guitar solo)

Great Guitar Solos Series

Horror Music


I suppose if I asked most people what music they identified with horror, John Carpenter’s “Halloween Theme” and Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” (The Exorcist) would come up first. After that, you’d get a lot of Rob Zombie and Glenn Danzig. So right off the bat, you’re looking at an enormous variety of sounds and styles connected mainly by association. While John Carpenter’s work was intentionally composed for the film in which it appeared, “Tubular Bells” was originally a 50 minute progressive rock opus that was anything but sinister or foreboding in its full form. Misfits was a goth punk band that happened to favor horror themes. White Zombie’s horror imagery was more a matter of crudeness and vulgarity in the spirit of GWAR; their sound was a frontrunner in the emergence of industrial groove metal, and the greatest “horror” associated with Rob was the countless terrible nu metal spinoffs. A couple of “top ten horror songs” lists I stumbled upon even list Bobby Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash” and Richard O’Brien’s “Time Warp”. I mean, “Monster Mash” is a fun Halloween song, sure, but horror? Really? And the Rocky Horror Picture Show does make me want to vomit, but we have to draw the line somewhere.

Suffice to say, “horror” music is not a genre at all. Simply associating a song with a scene or theme is enough to relate them; Huey Lewis and the News will probably make me smile and think of Christian Bale chopping people to bits in his apartment for the rest of my life. But there are definitely certain musical attributes that conjure in us a less glitzy feeling of dread than Hellbilly Deluxe. That skittering cockroach beat in the background of Halloween is completely unnerving; Carnival music is way creepier than Stephen King’s It; Black Sabbath’s appreciation for diabolus in musica virtually invented heavy metal; and it took a firm dose of the blues in 1988 for Danzig to capture a sense of the sinister that Misfits could never convey.

I don’t believe that any particular musical formula is the coalescence of evil. The music we find most haunting is derived from association too, but it connects in more subtle ways than say, the fact that a particular song appears in a horror film or mentions witches in the chorus. The real deal distorts what comforts us, denies our sense of order, and pries upon our innocence. Through a musical medium as through any other, horror focuses on shattering the lens through which we perceive reality as an ordered, logical construct. It reminds us of the real nightmares in life while nullifying our means to counteract them. It takes us to the world of the child, where emotional extremes enhance our senses of comfort and terror alike.

The carnival tune and music box are prime targets, conjuring in our minds a time when fear was more potent. The brief piano loop, the simple hum, the monotone drone–these bring us to solitude and isolation through minimalism. Effective horror themes offer no comforting symphony or rock ensemble to encase us in a nuanced world. They surround us with something singular and far from warm, or with nothing at all. The wind chimes warn of a storm; when none is coming, the darkness is all the more unnatural. The cathedral bell, a sign of fellowship on a Sunday morning, also tolls for death. A twitch, a buzz, a repeated knocking, a bit of static–things that would otherwise annoy us–exploit the close connection between discomfort and tension.

Or else we can completely overwhelm the senses with noise that strips away the familiarity which typically diminishes extreme music’s effect, leaving us a nervous wreck. When Blut Aus Nord chose to employ programmed, industrial blast beats in their 777 trilogy, they effectively eliminated the one element of the music that would have sounded too familiar to disturb. Instead, the epileptic guitar finds companionship in a persistent, unnatural clatter designed to place us permanently on edge.

Other bands have found other means to the same end. Peste Noire’s unique “black ‘n’ roll” sound enlivens a standard formula for “evil” music with a pep and a grin, giving the brutalizer a human face in the spirit of medieval sadism. Sunn O))) are inclined to drone on for ages, developing a false sense of comfort before infusing their deep buzz with a caterwaul of shrill pitches and clattering chimes. (I actually had a guy start freaking out on me at work one day when “Cry For The Weeper”, which he didn’t even notice playing, hit the 3:55 mark.)

And lastly, we can’t forget the power of lyrics to render a song gruesome. The stereotypical lines of a black metal song–nonsense about necromoonyetis and an appeal to Satanism far less disturbing than the average Christian commentator on Fox News–are pure cheese, and they entertain us in a manner similar to your typical zombie flick. But when you first heard Smashing Pumpkin’s “x.y.u.”, you probably got a feeling more akin to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Horror in lyrics is something a bit the opposite of horror in sound; it strikes us most deeply when we can be convinced that there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. There are certainly a few exceptions–Townes Van Zandt’s tall tale in “Our Mother the Mountain” chills me to the bone–but generally speaking, the real atrocities committed throughout human history far exceed the limits of our imaginations. Vlad Tepes was worse than any vampire, and from Elizabeth Bathory and Ariel Castro to Hernando Cortes and Adolf Hitler, we are flooded by examples of direct personal cruelty and dehumanized mass slaughter. When a song manages to make us think of these individuals and events beyond the safety blanket of historical narrative, an authentic feeling or horror is hard to deny.

Horror Film Review: Black Sabbath (dir. by Mario Bava)


For my latest horror review, I will be reviewing another classic film from one of my favorite directors, Mario Bava.  Following the suggestion of my twitter friend Tom, I spent last night watching Bava’s 1963 classic Black Sabbath.

Starring Boris Karloff, Black Sabbath is a compilation film that’s made up of three different horror-themed stories.  Originally entitled Three Faces of Fear, Black Sabbath has been released in many different versions over the years.  Depending on which version you seen, the stories may be in a different order than in the order that Bava intended.  The version I watched was the original, uncut, Italian-language version that was released by Anchor Bay.  For those of you who want to truly experience the genius of Mario Bava, this is the version to see.

Black Sabbath begins with Boris Karloff playing himself, giving a deliberately over-the-top introduction and informing us that there could very well be vampires and werewolves sitting next to us in the theater.  Yes, it’s silly and yes, it’s campy but it’s also a lot of fun.  A lot of this is because these words are delivered by Karloff, an actor who could make even the silliest of dialogue sound important.  The other part is that, as silly as the introduction may be, it’s beautiful to look at.  Instead of going for the standard spooky narrator in a cobweb-filled library approach, Bava frames Karloff standing against a brilliant dark blue backdrop that establishes that this isn’t just your typical horror host … this is BORIS FREAKIN’ KARLOFF!

After Karloff’s introduction, we move on to the first of Black Sabbath’s three separate stories, The Telephone.

In The Telephone, Michele Mercier plays a Parisian prostitute who returns to her apartment after an evening out.  As she tries to change for bed, her bright red telephone rings.  Every time Mercier opens the phone, she hears a man’s voice taunting and threatening her.  Finally, the caller claims to be Frank, Mercier’s former pimp who has just escaped from prison.  The terrified Mercier calls her estranged lesbian lover (Lydia Alfonsi).  Alfonsi comes over to the basement to comfort Mercier.  However, what Mercier doesn’t realize is that it wasn’t Frank calling her.  It was Alfonsi, pretending to be Frank.  However, needless to say, there’s more twists to come before the night’s over.

Of the three segments, The Telephone is probably the least succesful if just because it has the most pedestrian plot.  At the same time, this segment also show just how good Bava was at creating tension even with so-so material.  Speaking as someone who has been stalked in the past, I can say that both Mercier and Bava perfectly captures the way that one seemingly simple intrusion on your privacy can leave you suddenly feeling very isolated and very alone.  Finally, even after the segment’s over, it’s impossible to forget the sight of that vibrantly red phone sitting like a lurking monster in that artfully drab apartment.

The Telephone is followed by probably the film’s most famous segment, The Wurdalak.

Based on a short story by Tolstoy, The Wurdalak opens with a Russian nobleman (played Italian exploitation mainstay Mark Damon) on a long trip through the Russian wilderness.  He comes across a headless corpse with a dagger plunged into its heart.  Damon takes the dagger as a morbid souvenir of his trip.

As night falls, Damon comes across a small cottage and asks the family inside for shelter.  Inside the cottage, Damon discovers a wall that is covered with daggers similar to the one he found earlier.  His hosts explain that the daggers belong to the family patriarch, Gorcha (Boris Karloff).  Gorcha left five days earlier to kill a wurdolak (or vampire, by any other name).  As the family waits for Gorcha to return, not knowing whether or not he himself is now a vampire, Damon finds himself falling in love with Gorcha’s daughter.  When Gorcha finally does return, it’s obvious that he’s not the same man he was when he originally left.

Of the three segments, The Wurdolak is probably the most obviously Bavaesque and a whole lot of the same images and themes would later turn up in Bava’s masterwork, Kill, Baby, Kill.  Everything, from the constantly howling wind to the sense of isolation to the well-meaning but ultimately impotent upper-class hero, is classic Bava.  Special mention should also be made of Boris Karloff’s performance here.  Because Karloff was best known for appearing in “monster” movies, he never gets enough recognition for being a pretty good actor.  His performance here, which is full of malice and threat, is just as menacing as his earlier appearance in the introduction was fun and campy.

The final segment of the film is entitled The Drop of Water.

In many ways, The Drop of Water is the simplest segment of the film but for me, personally, it’s also the scariest.  In London, a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) is called to a large house to prepare a medium for burial.  While doing this. the nurse notices a large (and, quite frankly, kinda gaudy) ring on the medium’s finger.  The nurse steals the ring and returns to her own apartment.  As soon as she goes to her apartment, she finds herself haunted by increasingly ominous events: a buzzing fly refuses to leave her alone, the sound of water dripping echoes through the apartment, the lights go on and off, and — naturally — a mysterious figure suddenly appears in her bedroom.

Mixing the sense of growing paranoia that characterized The Telephone with Wurdolak’s sense of predestined, metaphysical doom, The Drop of Water is the perfect concluding chapter of Black Sabbath.  It also happened to scare the Hell out of me.  Along with Bava’s usual superb direction, this film was distinguished by some wonderfully creepy make-up work.  Seriously, once that mysterious figure reveals itself, you’ll wish it hadn’t.

I usually don’t enjoy compilation films because, too often, it seems that you’re lucky if you get just one above average story surrounded by a bunch of forgettable filler.  Far too often, the stories themselves don’t seem to go together.  Instead, they just appear to have been tossed together randomly with the weakest of possible connection.  Black Sabbath is an exception and that’s largely because of Mario Bava’s iconic direction.  The stories aren’t linked together by plot as much as their linked together by motif and theme.  Each story — from the emphasis on isolation to the creative use of color to suggest mood and menace — is linked by Bava’s style.  Boris Karloff may have been the name emphasized in the credits but the true star of Black Sabbath is Mario Bava.

The genius of Bava wasn’t in the originality of the stories he told but instead, in the new ways that he found to tell familiar stories.  Usually, I hate it when directors describe themselves as being about “style” as opposed to “substance.”  Too often, it seems like that’s just an excuse to not come up with an interesting story.  However, Bava is one of the few directors about whom the term “style over substance” can be used as a compliment.  Bava knew how to make style into art and he certainly did that in Black Sabbath.