1963 – Unrated – Kino Lorber
Mario Bava has a unique way of building suspense, creating an eerie mood and combining it all into a bone chilling tale. His films mix that moody atmosphere filled with sounds of the night, illuminating objects with odd florescent lights and drawing tension out so thin, you could cut it with a whisper. If Dario Argento is considered as “The Italian Hitchcock,” then what does that make Bava? To be honest, Bava’s style is so unique, that there is no comparing him to anyone else. He’s just as important to cinema as filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick or Michael Bay… No wait, not that last one.
Let’s take a look at his Gothic suspense thriller The Whip and the Body for example. It’s not exactly your traditional murder mystery. You mix in a castle and a ghost… now it’s starting to sound like Scooby and the gang should be in this.
As the sun rises… or sets, either way the sky is fading from a dark blue to a purple as waves crash against a beach and then suddenly a castle appears atop of a cliff in the background! At first I thought it was a ghost castle or would play a part later on in the movie (hint: it doesn’t). So, hmm… chalk that up to continuity? We see a man named Kurt, played devilishly by Christopher Lee, who has returned home to wish his brother well on his new marriage to his own old flame, the smoking hot Nevenka. Something about that seems sour. Of course if you cast Christopher Lee, you may as well have a large neon sign that says, “I AM THE VILLAIN!” following him around. However Kurt doesn’t get the warm welcome he… or you… you know what, no one was expecting, especially the maid, Georgia. Georgia’s daughter fell in love with Kurt after he seduced her, so when he left, she had stabbed herself in the neck. His father, The Count, has also turned Kurt’s estate over to his brother Christian. He’s a vile, sinister and untrustworthy man, but regardless, Christian allows him to stay. Welcome home, Kurt!
So you say goth, sleaze and murder isn’t enough for you? Kurt reveals he knows that his cousin Katia is secretly in love with Christian, throwing the taboo of incest into the mix. He feels her pain, as he is still infatuated with Nevenka and plans to take her back. After all, women are property. But that’s not his only diabolical plan. After entering his father’s room via hidden rotating wall behind a fireplace (which is a total villain move, how can you not know this guy is evil?), he tell his dying father that he plans to take back his estate as well, who in turn tells Kurt that will never happen. Kurt then storms off in a very sophisticated and formal temper tantrum.
He huffs and puffs his daddy issues away to the beach where he finds Nevenka and brings up the good ol’ times, which seems to spark up some fiery passion, since he takes her whip and lashes it across her back (oh, so that’s where the title comes from!). Since he’s a sadist and she’s a masochist (this is starting to sound like a sitcom), they embrace and make love or “boink” on the beach. He leaves her there, unconscious and delusional for Christian and groundskeeper Losat (who reminds me of Smolkin from The Undead) to find. Kurt’s a “hump and dump” kind of guy. Yeah, things seem to be going according to Kurt’s plan, until somebody puts the kibosh on it by stabbing him in the neck with the same knife that Georgia’s daughter committed suicide with.
After putting Kurt to rest, the family decides they should probably find out who done it, with The Count being the prime suspect and he doesn’t take kindly to this accusation. To make things worse, Christian’s marriage with Nevenka seems to be falling apart as they have a lover’s spat. That night, Nevenka has a haunting vision of Kurt, brought attractively to life with the Giallo style lighting and eerie cinematography, as he lashes into her with the whip. Meanwhile, The Count is found murdered in the same fashion, stabbed through the neck. All signs for the murders point to Georgia, but her love for The Count would prevent her from doing such things. So who else could it be? Katia? The creepy Losat? Or as Christian is becoming to believe, the ghost of Kurt? Wait, what?! As Nevenka is becoming more seemingly delusional, seeing footprints and more visions of Kurt, she convinces Christian that it may not be a completely crazy idea. The ghost of his dead brother, coming back to haunt those that have taken from him, betrayed him and murdered him. Crazier things have happened (take the plot of Baby Geniuses for example).
As Kurt’s laugh echoes through the castle, Nevenka further spirals into insanity and Christian must find out what exactly is going on, as they chase a cloaked figure through the cold stone walls of their home. And seeing as how he can’t call the Ghostbusters, he’ll have to uncover the identity of the murderer and lay the specter to rest with the help of Losat to stop the madness!
The Whip and the Body is a dark and moody film, and I don’t mean primarily the tone. Kino Lorber’s new transfer from the original 35mm showcases this magnificent color palette, as they corrected the color and contrast, but seem to have left the rest of the print as is. Some of the darker scenes can seem out of focus and grainy, but for a print being as old as it is, it still looks pretty sharp. The overall look is something out of a lucid nightmare. The colors are lambent, vibrant hues of a Giallo film, all seemingly fitting the mood of the scene. Blues and magenta’s highlight the darkness and danger that lurk around the corner. The sound blasts through in true traditional 2.0 mono with either English, French or Italian dialogue (subtitles are provided). However, as beautiful as it is, you probably will grow tired of the string and piano theme that seems to constantly play. Also, another actor dubbed the voice of Christopher Lee in the English track, who as you all know has a very distinct voice, so it will throw you off at first. Unfortunately, no extras are to be found here, but just enjoy the damn movie, you brat!
You don’t have to be a fan of Bava to enjoy The Whip and the Body. It’s a daunting tale of sadism and treachery, spun with murder and madness. This film is one of the prime examples to enjoy or be introduced to Mario Bava (possibly even giving some of you your first ”Bava Boner”). If that’s your bag, then pick up a copy of the Blu-ray or Christopher Lee will break in to your house in the middle of the night and whip you with your car antenna. Dude’s got issues.
Get into some S&M style love with The Lost Highway.