Horror Bites - Black Sabbath

THREE FACES OF FEAR (1963)


Ah the old style horror anthology, it's always one of my personal favourites as a structure for the novelty of each chapter and the variety involved. They do tend to vary in scope, whether it's something like Creepshow with a lot of stories, or the smaller scale Two Evil Eyes which as the title suggests is split down the middle. The original name here also gives this one away; it's a trilogy of horror tales, bookended by a great intro and ending dialogue from Boris Karloff, who features in the second of these. While many of these often have their hit and miss segments, I struggle to think of any others that quite this inconsistent in terms of plot and pacing; they vary in length and effectiveness. In this case the first is the weak link while part two is an improvement, and the finale is short and sweet.

'The Telephone' begins the show, with a girl alone at night being threatened by a mystery caller, someone from her past who was put behind bars but has escaped and is on her trail. The premise alone is pretty threadbare in terms of what could happen but they don't really do anything with it. She just sort of panics and never tries to do anything. He tells her she can't escape, and she believes him for some reason. Even when she calls for help from another old acquaintance who arrives without a problem, taking action never crosses her mind. There's a bit of a twist at the end but this is all strung out for far too long, beyond the limits of a basic suspense plot. For the one chapter which isn't related to the supernatural, logic and rational behaviour nowhere to be found. There's too much hysteria and not enough problem solving. Luckily for us things get better after this opening.

'The Wurdalak' is the term they're using for vampires here, in what seems to be a peasant farm in Russia. A young prince arrives to find a family being terrorised by a killer, and their father has been out for hunting him only to return looking rather crazy himself. Of course the old man has something to hide after being away for several days, and soon enough things start to get out of hand. The idea of bloodsuckers coming back from the dead to claim only their loved ones is pretty sinister, and even the youngest child is not safe. There's a lot of horror lighting to convey the desolate atmosphere, which works well even if scenes underground at night are still lit with bright greens and blues. The romantic melodrama amongst characters who have just met that day is really unconvincing, and is probably the weakest element here. Like the first chapter it feels too long instead of maintaining a sense of dread, but it still fares better. The closing story doesn't really have this problem, but cutting down some of the dud scenes and perhaps adding some extra short stories might have been a better idea for the sake of brevity.

'The Drop of Water' saves the best until last, as a nurse heads out to help the housekeeper of a medium who has just passed away. Foolishly she tries to steal a ring from the body while preparing it for the funeral, and despite several pretty overt warning signs she keeps it and heads home. That's the whole thing, the spirit of the deceased comes back to stop the would be thief. The body is really bizarre and wild eyed, and the strange goings which start to drive the nurse crazy are effective. There are no extraneous characters or threads that feel loose, it gets to the point and delivers what you want; weird visuals and creepy moments. It's memorable and striking, what else do you need from an anthology sequence.

Showing us out is a strange and amusing forth wall break from Karloff who rides what is clearly a fake horse before they go right ahead and break all the illusions. It's a mixed bag, but there's enough interesting takes on familiar genres to keep it from being a total slog, particularly once you get past the dull phone stalker section. It's not the greatest compilation out there, but is still worth checking out even if it's just to see why a certain rock band decided to take their name from it's English release title.