"Black Sunday" was such a huge hit that a follow-up was swiftly demanded, and horror maestro Mario Bava duly devised this three-part horror anthology blending modern and period stories. In the giallo-style 'The Telephone', a woman is terrorised by her former pimp after his escape from prison, and tries to escape him with the help of her lesbian lover, who has a dark secret of her own. In the Victorian-era 'The Drop of Water', a nurse steals a ring from the corpse of a dead spiritualist, which naturally tries to get it back. But it's the 19th-century Russian story 'The Wurdalak' that comes closest to Bava's earlier classic, with the great Boris Karloff as a much-loved paterfamilias who might not be entirely what he seems.
One third of the way to being a true classic
- Black Sabbath review by Count Otto Black
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You rated this film: 4
Like all portmanteau horror films, this one suffers from some of its segments being far better than others. And since it has only three parts, the fact that one of them's a waste of celluloid is more of a problem than usual. "The Telephone" is a sleazy little thriller which isn't really horror, except that a woman is threatened by a killer. She also takes her clothes off quite a lot, and lesbianism is involved. Mario Bava's direction is as competent as always, but there's precious little material to work with here, and most of it is an excuse for gratuitous female nudity. By the way, since there are so few characters, the inevitable twist is even easier to guess than usual.
"A Drop Of Water" is properly atmospheric, and this time the woman in peril is more concerned with the trouble she's in than finding excuses to take off her clothes, but again, there's basically no story. A person tempted by greed steals a valuable ring from the corpse of somebody who obsessively believed in spiritualism. This happens in a horror movie. Can you possibly guess what happens next...? The manner in which the thief is haunted, though rather primitively realized in special effects terms by modern standards, is genuinely nightmarish, but it's all style and no substance: somebody does a bad thing, a ghost gets revenge, the end. It looks very much like an idea for a movie that they couldn't flesh out to full length so it ended up here.
What sets the film apart is "The Wurdalak". Nearing the end of his career (this was the last film in which he was able to hide the fact that his arthritis was so bad he was having trouble walking), Boris Karloff is simply magnificent in the only screen portrayal to date of a vampire straight from genuine Eastern European folklore, rather than the mangled version of it Bram Stoker cobbled together for "Dracula". Set in a strange, stylized Grimm's Fairy Tales environment, it explores the idea of vampirism as a plague which turns people into evil opposites of their former selves bent on infecting their loved ones. How hard must it be, even after the truth ought to be painfully obvious, for somebody to accept they must kill a spouse still sentient enough to claim there's nothing wrong with them, or mutilate the corpse of their child so that it won't rise again as a monster? The modern craze for zombies has sometimes addressed this dilemma, but here we have the purest treatment ever of it in a vampire story. And Karloff really is superb.
So basically this movie is one-third a star and a half, one-third three-star scary, and one-third five-star in a class of its own. I know the average of those scores makes it a three-star film, but the Karloff bit is so good I'm bumping it up one.