Tuesday, January 09, 2007


John Phillip Law as hypnotist Dr. Peter Price, offering three fellow train passengers glimpses into their fates in 1 TRE VOLTI DEL TERRORE.

"The Three Faces of Terror"
2004, Pulp Video/Xploited Cinema, DD-5.1/2.0/MA/16:9/LB/SUB/+, 84m 35s, $21.95, DVD-0

The spirit of Mario Bava may live on in today's Italian horror cinema but -- judging by this anthology from special makeup effects artist-turned-director Sergio Stivaletti -- in name only. The title and format of this digitally-shot feature are plainly indebted to Bava's 1963 I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA ("The Three Faces of Fear"), also known as BLACK SABBATH; it toplines John Phillip Law, the star of Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK, who is featured in the wraparound story and plays different characters in all three principal stories; and there is also an amusing cameo by Lamberto Bava, who appears in the second story as the director of "DEMONI 7." Stivaletti's heart may be in the right place, but he could have paid greater tribute to Bava by aspiring to the standards of craftsmanship he established, rather than with tongue-in-cheek name-and-trivia-dropping and a troika of lame stories.

Scripted by Stivaletti and Antonio Tentori, I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE is most obviously indebted to the 1965 Amicus production DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, and also the 1985 low-rent anthology NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, which also featured Law. Three strangers (Riccardo Serventi, Ambre Even, Emiliano Reggente) travelling in an otherwise unoccupied traincar are joined by Dr. Peter Price (Law), who introduces himself as a hypnotist. He carries with him a silver ball that is the agent of his hypnosis, popping open in the palms of the passengers to reveal spinning mirrors that offer frightening glimpses of their futures, which turn out to be reminders of their immediate pasts. In "L'Anello della Luna" ("The Ring of the Moon"), Law plays a wealthy relics collector who pays a small fortune to two men to loot an ancient tomb, but one (Serventi) decides to keep the dead man's ring, which cuts into his finger and infects him with lycanthropy. (Popular keyboardist/composer Claudio Simonetti makes a cameo in this segment, as a victim of the werewolf.) In "Un Viso Perfetto (Dr. Lifting)," an actress (Even) escorts her best friend (Elizabetta Rocchetti) to a plastic surgeon (Law, actually named Dr. Fisher -- whose office and waiting rooms are stocked with film reference books and video guides!) and is taken aback when her friend expresses a wish to look more like her. In "Il Guardiano del Lago" ("Guardian of the Lake"), Law plays a half-masked boatman who warns three lakeside visitors to abandon their campsite because the surrounding waters harbor danger.
The stories are not only flimsy, but made to seem weaker than they are by the film's ill-considered structure, which cuts them off before they are properly finished -- giving the impression of weak endings all around; the proper story endings are withheld till a procession near the end of the movie, after certain facts about the wraparound story (already glaringly apparent to anyone halfway familiar with the horror genre) have been made sledgehammer clear.

Riccardo Serventi wishes he hadn't stolen "L'Anello della Luna."

Though inspirationally rooted in the 1960s, everything else about this picture -- Stivaletti's gooey Change-O-Head transformation effects, the prog rock-oriented soundtrack, the blue-and-black-colored atmospherics, the stumblingly phonetic supporting performances, the dated-looking CGI effects, an unnecessary sex scene (to call it "gratuitous" would indicate that it actually delivered some cheap thrills) -- all this seems a hapless hommage to 1980s Italian horror, the kind that always went straight to videocassette, courtesy of labels like Media Home Entertainment and Lightning Video back in the day.

If the film is worth seeing for any reason at all, it's to enjoy the sweet and somewhat sentimental scenery-chewing of John Phillip Law, who gets to play a range of characters in a range of dramatic modes. As Dr. Peter Price, he seems to be reprising the "old man" disguise he wore as Diabolik while reclaiming the emerald pendants from the crematorium; elsewhere, he can be found effectively underplaying in "L'Anello della Luna" and chortling his way wildly over the top in classic Grade Z mad scientist tradition in the final moments of "Un Viso Perfetto" (which recalls his work in Sergio Bergonzelli's insane BLOOD SACRIFICE. Even more to the picture's credit is a well-done stop-motion animation sequence (supervised by Fabrizio Lazzeretti and Gaetano Polizzi) involving a sea monster that briefly harkens back to the Harryhausen and Danforth fantasies of the early 1960s, a spirit which should have infected this enterprise a bit more.

As previously noted, I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE was shot on digital video and it looks here about the same as many 1980s Italian efforts shot in 16mm or Super 16mm; the lighting is a trifle glaring at times, the color is adequate, and the picture quality is a bit soft with occasional haloing. It's viewable in Italian with optional English subtitles or in English, which plays more awkwardly but at least preserves the vocal performances given onset by Law and his co-stars. The Italian track is playable in Dolby Digital 5.1 (an impressive mix) and 2.0 surround, while the English track is presented only in Dolby Stereo. The English subtitles are an oddity, punctuated with several instances of transcribed Italian muttered (ad libbed?) onscreen. The copy under review also evinced quite a few audio glitches on the English track.

Elizabetta Rocchetti gets what she asked for in"Un Viso Perfetta."

No fewer than three different editions of the film are available on import DVD, including a single-disc no-frills edition, a single-disc edition loaded with extras, and a three-disc edition containing a second disc of even more bonus materials and a CD of the musical score; all three are available from Xploited Cinema. The disc under review here is the single disc with extras, which already seems like much ado about fairly little. The bonus materials include deleted scenes, an unsubtitled 13m behind-the-scenes featurette, two trailers (the English one is a charmer, including original footage of Law in character), various photo galleries, an audio commentary by Stivaletti and Tentori (in Italian, without subtitles), and more.

I thought Stivaletti's earlier WAX MASK showed promise, but it was a real movie; I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE seems less an actual feature than a Digicam lark made on weekends by fans who happen to be professionals. I wish I liked this concoction better, but I can only recommend it -- with reservations -- to Italian horror buffs interested in checking in with John Phillip Law's career. And if an Italian horror booster like myself can find so little joy in it, I can't commend it to the attention of anyone whose genre interests may be more tempered.

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