I felt bad for skipping Bava this Shocktober – it’s been a near-annual tradition to watch one of his overrated movies – so I watched this in December to cool down after A Hidden Life. Extremely cool opening titles, at least – bold colors in low light, each actor posing for their credit with mannequins and flowers and birdcages. Maybe I should quit while I’m ahead…

We open with Drug Fiend Franco (Dante DiPaolo, a townsman in Seven Brides) bothering model Nicole outside a fashion house. “Have you tried asking Isabella,” she suggests, and in the next scene Isabella is battered and murdered by a faceless rorschach dude.

Isabella’s final stroll:

Fun scene where Nicole finds her late friend’s diary, tells everyone, then each person in the room wordlessly conveys “I am gonna steal that fuckin diary.” You see, they are all druggies and criminals with guilty consciences, which makes them all potential killers or victims – very Knives Out. Nicole goes to Franco’s house, which is infested with fancy furniture and vases, where the killer flicks the lights off and on, and somehow sneaks up on her wearing a suit of armor. I lose track of which beautiful woman is which for a while, as they’re all murdered by Rorschach… spiked glove to the face, hot furnace to the face, pillow to the face, you name it.

L-R: someone (Cristiana?), designer Cesare (Luciano Pigozzi of Exterminators of the Year 3000), Franco, Nicole

The police arrest all the men, but the killings continue, so the investigator gives up, and multiple-murderers Cristiana (Hungarian Eva Bartok in her final European role before retirement) and boyfriend Cameron Mitchell (four years before Ride in the Whirlwind) celebrate getting away with it… after one more murder, which they pull off, but then turn on each other.

Recovering the diary that doomed Mary Arden tried to destroy:

Mad killer Cristiana:

One could call this the finale in Mario Bava’s Black Trilogy after Black Sunday in 1960 and Black Sabbath in 1963, except that these are fake titles invented by U.S. distributors, and also Bava made six other movies in between. This one was actually named something like Six Women for the Murderer.

This was the second Italian horror of SHOCKtober, and usually it’s wisest to stick with one Italian horror, but I was psyched about Suspiria Remake. There is screaming in the first two seconds of the movie, a good sign. Finally watching Kill Baby Kill after years of hearing about Kill Baby Kill, so the title card was a surprise:

It is slightly Dracula-ish for a second, a doctor being dropped off outside town by a coachman who refuses to drive any further. Dr. Eswai (Giacomo Rossi Stuart, star of War Between The Planets the same year) has a cravat and nice hair, is joined by local student Monica, who of course will end up being involved in the supernatural conspiracy. It seems a long-dead little girl appears to people, then they die mysteriously soon after, a precursor to The Ring.

There’s a beardy inspector, a bald burgomeister, and a wild-haired mystic girl, and you can’t always tell whose side anyone is on, but really they’re all just suspicious and terrified because of the baby murders, which are somehow caused by the dead child’s mother, a reclusive baroness. After the burgomeister dies, his girlfriend the mystic goes on a suicidal revenge quest, takes out the baroness, and our innocent heroes are free to get outta this burg.

Ruth the Sorceress (Fabienne Dali of Le Doulos) was cool, and I liked all the colored lights shining on the sets. Apparently the lighting and camerawork are the reason for this appearing on so many best-horrors lists, but prosaic me was paying too much attention to the silly plot. Bava directed some 15 movies in the 1960’s, including The Mask of Satan and Black Sabbath and I’ve got Five Dolls for an August Moon around here somewhere.

There are some things you’ve gotta do in SHOCKtober, and one thing is you’ve gotta watch something Italian. As the saying goes, if you haven’t got Argento, a Fulci will do. If you haven’t got a Fulci, woe unto you.

This is one of those giallo things where everyone is knifed to death by unknown black-gloved assailant(s). In this case, I think it’s not a single crazed killer, but everyone killing everyone else in order to gain ownership of the bay that all their houses border. At least it seems that way, but it was really hard to care about any of these generic characters – I barely had their names and/or relationships sorted out when they’d be hastily murdered. Dialogue was in English on my copy, and reasonably well-synced, a nice surprise (though the words themselves, and the actors speaking them, remain quite poor). And of course Bava’s got enough style – lighting and zooms and focus tricks – to keep things watchable.

Laura Betti transcends this stupid movie:

Frank and sexy secretary:

Bug Man:

Let’s see if we can piece together what happened. The movie’s only good story idea is staging the death of an elderly landowner (Isa Miranda of The Late Mathias Pascal and La Ronde) by using her own diary entry reading “I am tired. My life no longer has meaning” as a suicide note. I guess this is done by her husband Filippo, who is immediately killed by squid fisherman Simon (Claudio Camaso of John the Bastard), illegitimate son of the hanged countess. Squid Simon has a rivaly with insect hunter Paolo (Leopoldo Trieste, young husband in The White Sheik), who’s scheming with fortune teller Anna (Laura Betti, the miraculous servant in Teorema). Realty Dude Frank (Chris Avram of Voodoo Sexy) and his girlfriend/secretary are also scheming with various participants somehow. Renata (Claudine Auger of Yoyo and Thunderball) is daughter of the count and countess, I think, arriving late with her husband Albert (Luigi Pistilli of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key) to claim the bay. I think these two succeed, then are shot to death by their own young kids in an epilogue, the movie’s final “fuck you” to its characters and/or viewers.

Our ignoble heroes, Renata and Albert:

Filippo beneath the Squid Thief’s slimy cargo:

Also, with no apparent connection to anything else, four young partying sex-crazed kids (including a skinny-dipping Brigitte Skay, title star of Isabella, Duchess of the Devils) break into a house on the bay and get quickly murdered.

Duchess of the Devils:

The Duchess’s boyfriend catches a machete to the face:

This movie, sometimes known as Twitch of the Death Nerve, was a relatively late film from Bava, arriving some years after his early-to-mid-60’s horror heyday. I guess the others didn’t catch on like this one, since it’s credited as one of the most influential slasher/giallo films (though I’m not sure that’s anything to brag about), with some if its deaths directly ripped off by Friday the 13th sequels.

Lots of afraid-looking ladies standing in finely arranged rooms with mysterious glowing green light sources, speaking with absolutely appalling lipsync, the worst I’ve seen. This was made a few years after Black Sunday, which is somehow a different movie. Their original Italian titles are something like Mask of Satan and Three Faces of Fear, which are far more descriptive, since Black Sunday is about a mask of satan, and this one is an anthology of three fear-based short stories introduced by Boris Karloff.

The Telephone

Pretty good suspense story, with your usual black-gloved Italian knife murderer. Rosy (Michele Mercier, friendly prostitute in Shoot The Piano Player) is being harassed by telephone, thinks her just-escaped-from-prison ex Frank is returning for revenge, so calls over her former friend Mary. But Mary was making the calls as a fun prank in order to get invited over. As she writes a letter explaining this, Rosy’s just-escaped-from-prison ex Frank arrives and strangles Mary, then he’s killed by a knife-wielding Rosy, who now has no more friends. Fun fact: if you speak into the phone through a folded handkerchief your voice sounds just like Frank’s.

Dead by dawn! Dead by dawn!

Old friends hangin’ out:

The Wurdulak

Count Vladimir arrives at an inn where the locals are holed up in fear of wurdulaks: zombies who “yearn for the blood of those they loved most when they were alive.” When Father returns from hunting wurdulaks, it’s clear to the viewer that he has become one, because he’s Boris Karloff and looks insane. Yup, Boris kills his son Massimo Righi (of Danger!! Death Ray and Planet of the Vampires), steals his grandson and rides into the night. Vlad hangs out through all this because he thinks some girl is pretty (“my lips are dead without your kisses”), so he’s as doomed as they are.

The Drop of Water

Helen (Jacqueline Pierreux, Jean-Pierre Leaud’s mom) is a nurse, I guess. She’s called to the house of a dead recluse by Milly the maid, interrupting Helen’s plans to sit alone and get drunk, so understandably she is annoyed. While dressing the dead woman in funeral clothes, she steals the woman’s ring. This ring was apparently the source of the old woman’s fatal ghostly torment, because when Helen goes home and resumes drinking, after being harassed by flies and not-at-all-scary drops of water, she becomes possessed and strangles herself. Her landlady steals the ring, etc. This would have easily been the worst chapter if not for the dead old lady’s amazing death mask.

After all this, Karloff reappears and Bava reveals the studio artifice, Taste of Cherry-style. Karloff, a few years after Corridors of Blood, looks like he’s having fun.

Segments were written by Tolstoy and Chekhov (really). IMDB says Polanski choking himself in The Tenant was a reference to this, and apparently the mom in The Babadook is seen watching it.

I know there’s a rule that Italian horrors need a minimum of three titles, but I don’t see why this is mainly known as Black Sunday when The Mask of Satan is its original title and far more descriptive. I believe this is my first Mario Bava movie unless we’re counting Danger: Diabolik on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Fun camerawork, great lighting and atmosphere, and mixed effects (swell zombie makeup vs. rubber bat on a string). Opening titles are unintentially funny (The Mask of Satan, produced by Jolly Films).

Wide-eyed Barbara Steele (of 8 1/2) is the resurrection of a murdered witch from the 1600’s, killed by nailing a devil mask onto her face. In present day, a stumblebum professor (Andrea Checchi, hotel detective of The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) pauses between clumsily destroying ancient relics to purposely remove the mask, and then I get confused because the witch is reborn but also has a doppelganger descendant living in the castle next door. The professor gets himself possessed, so his student (John Richardon of Torso and One Million Years B.C.) becomes our hero. He wrestles the devil in a hallway and wins! I’m used to rooting for resurrected ghosts to take revenge on the families of their murderers, but this movie makes it hard, the zombies all rotting and horrid with no vampiric panache. It also takes its Christ vs. Devils thing very seriously, and the townspeople with pitchforks and torches are the good guys.

Anyway, if I ever move into a castle, first thing I’ll do is measure all the walls House of Leaves-style to check for hidden passageways.