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Three Faces of Terror

Feature


Three passengers sit bored on a train. A stranger named Professor Peter Price, a professional hypnotist, boards the train and reveals to the passengers their repressed memories via a magical ball. Their three tales are as follows:

L'anello della luna (The Moon Ring) features a grave robber making the mistake of putting on a mummy-cursed ring that turns him into a blood-thirsty werewolf. Dr. Lifting is the sad tale of an actress seeking drastic plastic surgery, and her crazy doctor that wants to keep her face for other patients' use. Things wrap up with Il guardiano del lago (The Guardian of the Lake), which features a trio of twenty somethings coming into contact with a giant lake monster while on holiday.

Three Faces of Terror

There's nothing quite like falling in love with a specific kind of entertainment that they don't make anymore. Nostalgia breeds some of the most rabid fan bases, and sometimes those fan bases are loud enough to ensure their obsessions are rejuvenated. Unfortunately these new versions of are usually less than half as special as the originals.

I love late '70s, early '80s Italian horror like I love cheeseburgers. They don't make 'em anymore for various reasons, the most obvious being that the '70s and '80s are over. Another, equally valid reason for the lack of new crop is the fact that the Italian film industry is almost entirely dead, horror or otherwise. Lucio Fulci died after making a long chain of really bad films, Umberto Lenzi and Ruggero Deodato haven't done much in years, Michelle Soavi's son got sick, and Dario Argento is stuck in a major rut. The death of the Drive-In and Grindhouse also hurt the industry exportation. Video doesn't make filmmakers much money.

Three Faces of Terror
Despite knowing that a nostalgic resurgence is almost a always bad thing, I was very excited when I found out Sergio Stivaletti had made a throw back to the glory days of the spaghetti horrors. Stivaletti was on hand when the genre choked out its death rattle as a special effects make-up man, and he hadn't started his career in earnest until things were already looking bad. Stivaletti worked mostly for Argento on Phenomena, both Demons films, and Opera, but he was also on-set for the genre's last great film, Cemetery Man. Most importantly, he was also at the center of the genre's last shot at resurrection, 1997's M.D.C. - Maschera di cera (aka: The Wax Mask).

Bare with me friends, I'm almost to my actual review.

M.D.C. was to be an Italian horror lover's dream. Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci never got along, but after seeing Fulci in a very poor state of health, the always self-obsessed Argento had a moment of empathy and decided to produce a film with the Godfather of Gore. Fulci and Argento decided to remake Gaston Leroux's famous book, and even managed to hammer out a script together, despite a very long period of arguments and story changes. Then Fulci died, and with him the hopes of horror fans everywhere. Producer Argento put Stivaletti, who was originally scheduled to do the film’s make-up only, in the director’s chair, and the results were decidedly mixed.

It seems only appropriate that Stivaletti be the man to try to jumpstart the industry again, seven years after its official and untimely death (say what you will about Argento and Lamerto Bava's work since, it's still not up to snuff, no pun intended). Three Faces of Terror, in Italian Tre volti del terrore, shares its title with Mario Bava's classic anthology film from 1963, known throughout the rest of the world as Black Sabbath (imagine if it had gone by its original title, what would the band have called themselves?). This implies a return to the pre 'silver-age' of Italian horror, but is really just an in-joke title, as the film has little to nothing in common with Bava Sr.'s early work.

Three Faces of Terror
I was more than willing to love Three Faces of Terror, but the fact of the matter is that it's an awful film. Technically three awful films. Stivaletti's direction is flat as a sit-com, the camera is given little life of its own, and the lighting schemes look like a fanboy's bad impersonation of Luciano Tovoli's work on Argento's Tenebre. The sets are bland and obviously shoestring. I'm pretty sure that Goblin musician Claudio Simonetti's cameo was actually filmed in his back yard. The whole film screams "Cheap, cheap, cheap", and not in a good way.

The bland and unoriginal script doesn't help matters, but it's a structural fumble that seals the film's fate. Like most anthology horror films, the parts are all surrounded by a wraparound story. This one involves a hypnotist whose crystal ball device shows three train passengers’ three different stories (no points for the folks that guess this train's final destination). This is fine, no worse that a kid reading the tales in a comic book, or a skeletal puppet sharing them. The problem is that each of the three stories ends before its climax. They just end, no explanation, and we're back in the train. The idea is that the end of the film features all three climaxes in a row. I suppose it's a creative enough idea, but it makes for an incredibly frustrating viewing experience.

Stivaletti crams a whole bunch of references and in-jokes into the film, but they really only act as a semi-entertaining drinking game for those few hardcore fans that can recognize them. Simonetti's cameo is one (he wrote music for most of Argento's productions throughout the era, and has started up again recently), Lamberto Bava appears briefly as a director upset with a faulty gore effect (the movie is called Demons 7, a joke referring to the fact that the official and unofficial Demons films are pretty much Bava Jr.'s only claim to fame), and the technician he's yelling at is played by Stivaletti himself. Very attentive fans will also notice M.D.C. playing on a TV screen.

Three Faces of Terror
There are really only two things that work here, the special effects, and star John Phillip Law, and these only work for viewers that appreciate camp. Law is either way understated or way over-the-top, and eats up his four (count them, four) roles with a Vincent Price-ish relish. I'm guessing his fee, has been or not, was half the film's budget. The effects are oldschool for the most part (the digital backgrounds and composites are dreadful), and will appeal to '80s horror fans that still like things rubbery. Honestly, for a film made by a make-up effect technician the 'realism' of the make-up effects is, um, lacking (the werewolf is actually weaker than that of John Landis' An American Werewolf in London, which was made 27 years ago), but still fun. The lake monster puppet is aces.

Video


This DVD looks pretty awful, but I'm not sure how much of it is due to Stivaletti's weak cinematography, and how much is due to bad mastering. The interlacing images are most likely the DVD's fault (just look at my screen caps), as is the overwhelming edge enhancement. The lack of detail and overall darkness of the image might be due to the source material. Sometimes it appears that Three Faces of Terror was recorded on video rather than film or HD, though I can't find any specific information on the technical specs, I assume that this can't be true. It just can't. That's too low budget.

Three Faces of Terror

Audio


Here's something weird, the disc's sole 5.1 track is in Italian, as expected from an Italian feature, but all the Italian actors are obviously speaking English throughout the film (and decent English at that). To hear the film in 5.1 surround one has to watch Italian actors speaking English, dubbed back into Italian by seemingly different actors, and subtitled. It's strange. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is tinny and an echo chamber anyway, so I recommend the Dolby Stereo Surround English track instead, which is thin, but clearer, and the lip-sync lines up. The soundtrack is another misfired throwback to the '80s era Italian films, where electronic prog-rock reigned supreme.

Extras


There is a three-disc version of this DVD also available from my friends at Xploitedcinema.com, which includes the original soundtrack on CD and a bunch of extras. I'm reviewing the decidedly less spectacular single disc version. On my disc is a director's commentary (in Italian only) brief behind the scenes montage (in Italian only), a deleted scenes reel, and some trailers. The deleted scenes include an alternate version of a scene already in the movie with audible off-screen dialogue, whereas the version in the film is (purposefully?) silent. Nothing much here, but that's what makes it the barebones release. Though I suppose if I spoke Italian I'd be set.

Three Faces of Terror

Overall


Tre volti del terrore is a massive disappointment all around. I consider myself an avid lover of the Italio-horror genres of the '70s and '80s, and I can't even muster the strength to recommend this flick to other fans. It's only worth it to those that find themselves completely lost without new and relevant Italian horror output, and those that really want to see a few oldschool make-up effects. I hate to admit it, but unless Dario Argento can manage something incredible with his belated third entree to the trilogy he started with Suspiria and Inferno, entitled The Third Mother, I think we may have to official stick a nail in the countries genre output.

You can find a pile of better Italian horror flicks at Xploitedcinema.com.


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