Hey, look, an entry! I’m back with Mario Bava’s 1963 The Whip and the Body. This French-Italian co-production is alternately known as La frusta e il corpo in Italian or Le corps et le fouet in French.
The production stars Christopher Lee as the main antagonist, Kurt Menliff.
By the time this movie was made, Lee had already starred as Dracula, the Mummy, and Sherlock Holmes. Sadly, the English version isn’t dubbed by any of the original actors! So even though he has an amazing screen presence, we don’t get to hear his voice. We should always hear Christopher Lee’s voice!
I have the Kino Classics remastered edition that comes with an Italian or French track with subtitles, or English dubbing. I chose Italian since I’m familiar with the language already. This edition also has about ten minutes that were cut by censors.
Menliff is a sadist who drove a servant girl to suicide when he refused to marry her. He left his family’s castle in a vague Eastern European country and returned, allegedly to congratulate his brother, Christian (Tony Kendall) on his marriage to Kurt’s former fiance, Nevenka (Daliah Lavi).
Upon returning, he immediately resumes his sadomasochistic relationship with Nevenka, reminding her that she always enjoyed violence.
That is, until he’s found dead with a knife in his throat. The same knife that the servant he seduced used to kill herself. Who killed Kurt? Everyone in the castle has a motive, from Kurt’s father to the mother of the dead servant girl. What’s more, the people who Kurt claimed hated him start turning up dead. Nevenka claims to have seen the ghost of Kurt, who still sports red blood from his slit throat. Kurt manages to whip Nevenka even as a specter.
The major theme of this movie is repression. Nevenka represses her true feelings for Kurt. She knows she should hate him for what he did to the servant girl, especially now that she’s married to Christian, but she can’t resist Kurt.
The castle appears cold and damp. It’s mostly furnished in cold blues and blue-grays, but there are spots of red, suggesting hidden emotions and passion.
Secrets abound in the castle, from the literal secret passage that Kurt knows of to his father’s room, to the secret love that Christian has for the servant girl, Katia (Isli Oberon).
Color is such a major part of Mario Bava’s work. This movie features a very muted version of Bava’s aesthetic. The lighting is very toned down compared to Bava’s other works, with muted cool blues and occasional flashes of red. The lighting in this movie said more than the words in the script. Scenes and actors tended to be lit with the cool blue light, sometimes tending towards green, but when something tense was happening, the lighting would change to more warm, natural-looking light.
Here’s Nevenka in her room as Kurt haunts her;
When Nevenka is involved with Kurt the light tends to start more warm and natural and turns more red and lurid, especially when it’s on Kurt, suggesting their passion, violence, and destructive relationship.
See an emotional Nevenka at Kurt’s burial;
And check out Kurt in one of his final scenes with Nevenka;
It’s interesting that Kurt’s burial scene features actors in warm colors and more red imagery, considering how much blue is used throughout the rest of the movie.
Along with the more muted color, by Bava standards, the gore is also toned down. There are multiple whipping scenes and several scenes with slit throats but don’t expect buckets of blood.
The movie was interesting enough but it’s not my favorite Bava picture. It felt almost like a parody of one of the API Corman-Poe movies or a Hammer parody. Honestly, the sexual nature of the movie is what keeps it more interesting than a lot of gothic horror from this time period. This movie doesn’t feel like a typical Bava film but is still an interesting, weird gothic movie. I’d say it’s worth it if you’re a Christopher Lee fan because, although he doesn’t have many scenes he brings a distinct menacing presence to the movie.