Saturday, July 11, 2009

Horror reco: Bava does Johar

If you like Italian-Gothic horror and late-career Boris Karloff and if you have a limited attention span, try to get hold of Mario Bava’s short film "The Wurdalak", based on a 19th century story about a family that turns into undead ghouls after the patriarch becomes a wurdalak – a creature of the night that sustains itself by feeding on the blood of the people it loved the most when it was alive. This is the second of the three shorts in Bava’s Black Sabbath. The others – “The Telephone” and “The Drop of Water” – are good too but this is undoubtedly the best: atmospheric, lushly photographed, with a wonderfully hammy Karloff performance.

It’s even somewhat Karan Johar-ish in the way it emphasizes family values: consider the integrity of a young woman who has the option of escaping with a dashing young man who’s madly in love with her, but who chooses instead to be bitten on the neck so she can live in eternal damnation with her father and brothers. I can totally see Amitabh Bachchan as the bloodthirsty patriarch and Shah Rukh as the nobleman who asks for the girl’s hand (and perhaps receives it in a box). Consider also the tragic sight of a woman imploring her husband not to plunge a stake into the heart of their now-undead child; isn't this essentially what Jaya Bachchan does in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham?


See the Italian version, not the dubbed English-language version (even though Karloff’s voice has been dubbed in the former).

Don’t try to say “Wurdalak” out loud unless you can speak exactly like Bela Lugosi – that would be disrespectful.

Other Bava films I recommend: The Whip and the Body and Five Dolls for an August Moon (both of which were available at Palika Bazaar last I checked). None of these films are anywhere near as gory as the director’s reputation suggests; but then I haven’t yet seen the notorious Twitch of the Death Nerve.


  1. That must be the first time Karloff, undead ghouls AND Karan Johar have featured in the same post.

  2. Some random horror recos
    tale of 2 sisters
    let the right one in
    the devil's backbone
    the descent
    session 9

  3. Karan Karloff: "It's all about biting your family"

    BTW, isn't it the same film which inspired the name of the eponymous metal band????

  4. Aditya: yes, and it was apparently also one of the inspirations for Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, though I don't see many similarities there.

  5. Dear Aitya Mani Jha,

    I never believe it when people write
    LOL online but

    I really truly laughed out loud at "it's all about biting your family."

    -Virginia in New York