Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Night of Terror #17: The Whip and the Body

In my second Mario Bava viewing of the month, we have what many apparently consider to be his best movie, The Whip and the Body. It certainly has all the elements of a Bava masterpiece: Bravura camerawork, lighting, and use of color, plus a thick and heavy horror atmosphere, with some gothic romance thrown in for good measure. Particularly romantic is the lush score by Carlo Rustichelli, which plays a huge part in the movie's effect on the audience particularly in the first part -I mean "first part" literally here, as the movie is inexplicably (and hilariously to me for some reason) broken up into parts announced via title cards. It's less than 90 minutes long so I have no idea why this was done.

Anyway, the story has to do with an asshole nobleman (played to the hilt by Christopher Lee in what has to rank as one of his best screen villains) who comes back to the estate of his estranged family to claim what's his. He gets knocked off by someone in the family, but his ghost continues to haunt the grounds.

One of the things I like best about The Whip and the Body is the weird blend of genre ingredients present in its weird stew. It's a ghost story, a soap opera, a whodunit, a gothic romance, and some kind of weird S&M thing all rolled into one. And Bava ties it all together with some of the most striking images of his career.

I was prepared to balk at claims that this is Bava's best, but the final scene between Christopher Lee and his - uh, victim? Love-interest? Girlfriend?  - has an emotional resonance and power you don't often see in Italian genre movies. It kind of made me look at the rest of the movie with a new perspective. I still don't think it's top-tier Bava, but it's close.

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