Appellate Judge Tom Becker's flogging for a good time.
The most deliriously romantic horror picture ever made.
When wicked, rogue son Kurt (Christopher Lee, Horror Express) returns to his family estate, no one is happy to see him. The housekeeper despises him—Kurt's affair with her daughter left the girl desolate, and she committed suicide in shame and grief. His father (Gustavo De Nardo, Black Sabbath) is ashamed of Kurt's wanton ways. Kurt's brother, Christian (Tony Kendall, Machine Gun McCain), has tried to be the noble son and has even forsaken his true love, Katia (Ida Galli, The Weekend Murders) to marry—at his father's behest—Kurt's former lover, Nevenka (Daliah Lavi, The Silencers).
Christian's very proper marriage to Nevenka is just that—proper, and passionless. There is, however, passion between Nevenka and Kurt, a violent, wildly sexual passion that leaves Nevenka repulsed and hungry for more. Kurt beats Nevenka with a whip before making love to her, and this clearly arouses her, leaving her shaken and horrified.
But since pretty much everyone who encounters Kurt ends up shaken and horrified, one way or another, it's not terribly surprising when something dreadful happens.
What transpires after that, however, is quite unexpected.
Five decades before 50 Shades of Grey made sado-masochism fashionable; two decades before Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger made sado-masochism silly, friendly, and dewy fresh as a shampoo commercial in 9 1/2 Weeks; less than a decade before The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh was cleanly delineating sado-masochism onto the shelf of Italian giallo, Mario Bava created what should be considered a standard-bearer for S&M films, one that blows most of what came after out of the water.
A lush and luscious gothic fetish film, The Whip and the Body is one of Mario Bava's most visually striking works. It's also one of his kinkiest; it's easy to understand why this film was so controversial when it was released in the early '60s. The Whip and the Body was severely cut in most markets—in the U.S., the film was re-titled What!, a move that made sense since all the whips and bodies were removed by censors, and what remained was so confusing, it had most people scratching their heads.
It's a slow-moving film, and the score by Carlo Rustichelli (Divorce, Italian Style) seems a bit florid even for a gothic melodrama. But there is so much here that is disturbing; Bava and his actors don't shy away from the psychosexual complexities of the characters' intense sado-masochist relationship. Scenes of Lavi being whipped while writhing and biting her pillow are chilling to watch, with the actress offering a riveting, visceral performance.
Kino's Blu-ray of The Whip and the Body offer an overall good picture with rich, deep colors. The image—mastered in HD from an original 35mm print—offers reasonable detail and contrast. I'm guessing this was the version shown in France, since the title card is in French (I have a version of this film on a double bill with Lucio Fulci's Beatrice Cenci that features an Italian title card).
Audio is offered in three LPCM Mono tracks, one in Italian, one in English, and one in French. All were post dubbed, as was typical of foreign films of the era, but it's frustrating that in the English version, Christopher Lee's voice was dubbed by someone else.
This version of The Whip and the Body is the uncensored, European cut. Sometimes, with "controversial" films like this, I kinda wish they'd also release the censored cut as a supplement. I have a vague memory of watching What! on a horror movie TV show when I was a kid, a memory kick started by Tim Lucas's commentary, wherein he mentions that the title sequence for the American version took place in a scene pulled from later in the film involving a fireplace; I actually remember (or think I remember) watching the fireplace open and the word "What!" popping up on the screen, accompanied by someone bellowing the same word. Or maybe not. In any event, the supplements on this disc are light: Lucas's commentary and trailers for this and other Bava films.
I've never been a huge Mario Bava fan—don't get me started on A Bay of Blood or Five Dolls for an August Moon—but when he's good (Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, or Blood and Black Lace), he's great. The Whip and the Body is a near-great Bava. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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