Known in Italy as I tre volti della paura (The Three Faces of Fear), Mario Bava’s seminal film plays differently in other countries of the world. Here in the United States, American-International Pictures suggested changes to Bava during filming so that the film would play better in America, where it underperformed. Those changes include replacing the original dialogue, changing Roberto Nicolosi’s score to music by Les Baxter and censoring much of the film’s violence. The first story, “The Telephone,” was changed the most, as it was given a supernatural element missing from the Italian version and all references to prostitution and lesbianism were exorcised.
Bava wanted to create a story about how terror can strike in different time periods and looked to books for inspiration. The first tale, “The Telephone,” is based on F.G. Snyder’s story and has Bava trying to match the lurid covers of giallo detective books. The whole name giallo had no been codified yet, so this is a take between The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace.
In that story, a French call girl named Rosy (Michèle Mercier) returns home to receive a series of strange phone calls from her pimp Frank, who has just escaped from prison. A prison that she sent him to, no less.
Rosy calls her ex-girlfriend Mary (Lydia Alfonsi) as she is sure that she is the only person who can help her. She gives her a large knife and while Rosy sleeps, Mary writes to confess that she was the one who made the calls, hoping that she could bring their relationship back. As she finishes, Frank (Milo Quesada)really does break in and kills her. Realizing he murdered the wrong woman, he moves to Rosy’s bed, but the knife does end up saving her.
In “The Wurdulak,” Vladimir Durfe (Mark Damon) is a young nobleman who finds a headless corpse with a knife in its heart. Taking the blade, he leaves for a small cottage where a man tells him that the knife belongs to his missing father Gorca (Boris Karloff, who also hosts the movie), who has gone to fight the wurdulak.
Now, however, the old man has become what he was fighting and even transforms their son into another undead creature that demands to feed on humans, predating Salem’s Lot. One by one, the family becomes these creatures, leaving only Vladimir and his love, Sdenka (Susy Andersen).
That story was loosely based on The Family of the Vourdalak by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, along with the story “The Wurdulak” from the anthology I vampiri tra noi, Guy de Maupassant’s “Fear” and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Finally, “The Drop of Water” was based a Chekov story and “Dalle tre alle tre e mezzo” (“Between Three and Three-thirty”) from an anthology book called Storie di fantasmi (Ghost Stories). Nurse Helen Chester (Jacqueline Pierreux) is called by the maid (Milly Monti) of an elderly medium to prepare her body for burial. She can’t help but steal a ring from the dead woman, which leads to bussing flies, drips of water and even the dead woman coming back for her.
Even the color of this film is different between the American and Italian versions. It may seem crazy to us today, but AIP recut, re-edited and recolored a Mario Bava movie. This would be seen as ridiculous today, but in 1963, horror films were hardly seen as art.