The Whip and the Body (Mario Bava / Italy-France, 1963):
(La Frusta e il Corpo)

The title is part of the effect in Mario Bava’s erotic masterpiece, the curled whip becomes erect in the scoundrel’s hand. The seaside castle offers passageways behind fireplaces and a stained dagger in a glass case, the sadistic brooder (Christopher Lee) returns to rekindle old traumas. His beloved (Daliah Lavi) has married his brother (Tony Kendall), his father (Gustavo De Nardo) denies him his privileges, the maid (Harriet Medin) wants revenge for what he did to her daughter. Lee’s reunion with Lavi on the beach doesn’t take off until he’s covered her back with welts, later that night the blade finds its way into his throat. The corpse is eulogized under golden candlelight and taken away by crimson-robed monks, a green glow lies beyond the crypt entrance. "You can’t stop the hand of fate," the old servant says, yet a circular pan around Lavi at the piano is followed by a zoom into the window, where Lee stands with a bloodied neck. James, Poe and Brontë are the uncredited poles, Liebestod is all but explicitly called out for the heroine’s trajectory from corseted noblewoman to bedeviled wanton. Hatred is as intense an emotion as love, Lavi learns, as the spirit of the tormenter appears by her bed, riding crop in hand. "Why do you torture me?" "You have always loved violence." The carnal and the spiritual mingle, the film builds to a Munch amalgam (Madonna, Death and Love) and sets it ablaze. Bava presents the perversely liberating romance with a master class in lighting and movement -- each shadow is a different color as the camera tracks through the corridors, in the signature shot Lee’s ravenous leer slides from threatening azure to ecstatic scarlet as he floats toward the delirious maiden. Corman’s gothic thrillers are stylistic comrades, but only Buñuel’s Abismos de Pasión outclasses it for visions of the horror of passion, and the passion of horror. With Ida Galli, Luciano Pigozzi, and Jacques Herlin.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home