The Whip and the Body
the whip and the body | mario bava | ernesto gastaldi | ugo guerra | luciano martino | daliah lavi | christopher lee | tony kendall | gothic | romance | italy | france | ghost | haunted | evelyn stewart | harriet medin | gustavo de nardo | jacques herlin | luciano pigozzi
Film: The Whip and the Body
Director: Mario Bava
Writer: Ernesto Gastaldi, Ugo Guerra and Luciano Martino
Starring: Daliah Lavi, Christopher Lee and Tony Kendall
This is a movie that I didn’t hear about until horror movie podcasts. To be honest, I knew the title, heard a review about it, but didn’t know much more beyond that. This one went on my radar when it was put on Shudder as part of the Mario Bava collection. I didn’t even realize until Duncan selected it for Movie Club for that it starred Christopher Lee, who I’m a big fan of. To get into this, the synopsis is the ghost of a sadistic nobleman attempts to rekindle his romance with his terrorized, masochistic former lover, who is unwillingly affianced to his brother.
For this movie, we start on the beach. Someone is riding on horseback toward a castle in the distance. It turns out to be Kurt Menliff (Lee). He is returning to his ancestral home. It appears he is the oldest son of Count Vladimir (Gustavo De Nardo). Kurt was set to inherit everything, but he was disliked by all and it appears he left in disgrace. Vladimir is not happy to see his son return. It seems interesting in timing as Christian (Tony Kendall), Kurt’s younger brother, was just married to Kurt’s former lover of Nevenka (Daliah Lavi). It appears they were supposed to be married, but Kurt left and forfeited everything. Vladimir is unwilling to forget.
Kurt also draws the anger of Giorgia (Harriet Medin). Her daughter Tanya killed herself when Kurt left and she wants to see him die in the same way that she did. There is also Katia (Evelyn Stewart), who is also a servant here, who is in love with Christian. She is depressed that he is now married.
With Kurt returning, he starts his relationship back up with Nevenka. On the beach, he takes her whip and uses it. She seems to be into this though as they make love afterwards. When she doesn’t return home after this encounter, a search party is sent out of Christian, Katia and Losat (Luciano Pigozzi). Vladimir retires to his room and is startled when Kurt comes in through a passageway in the fireplace.
It all takes a turn when Kurt is murdered in his room that night with the dagger that killed Tanya. Everyone has a reason for wanting to kill him. Was it a ghost seeking revenge? From this point, Nevenka believes that Kurt is either not dead or haunting her. She continues to see him and she is even attacked. Christian can see the evidence of muddy boots and the markings, but he can’t believe it is a ghost. What is going on here in this isolated castle?
That is where I want to leave the recap. Where I’m going to start first is the atmosphere of this movie. I heard Duncan’s introduction to this movie. He told how Lee was soured on working with Bava, who is an all-time great director in Italy and cinema, with how sleazy this movie is. What I find interesting is that I can see where he is coming from, but I mean where cinema will go from here, it gets much worse in this department. What I like with this atmosphere is that we’re taking the gothic setting, while adding in a bit of sleaze in the sexual depravity of Kurt and Nevenka. It wasn’t as acceptable during when the movie was set, but personally, I don’t see anything wrong with it, unless the parties involved aren’t on board.
With that out of the way, I do want to delve a bit more into the characters of Kurt and Nevenka. They were set to be married until Kurt fled. He seemed to love Tanya more, but he did enjoy engaging in BDSM with Nevenka. She is dealing with some trauma here. She is into being punished. With her being a lady, she doesn’t want to admit it as it makes her look bad. She marries Christian, who will treat her better, but he cannot supply the sexual gratification that she is searching for. This becomes an even more tangled web in that he’s in love with Katia, but he has family duties in marrying Nevenka. I think this shows a bit how the aristocratic life can be complicated.
To circle back to something is the trauma that Nevenka has. Now she is the one that is mostly being tormented by Kurt. He continues to come back and whip her. He even takes her as a ghost. The question I had this whole time, is Kurt a ghost or is she having a breakdown? I like that the movie introduces this question. This is a troupe that some people are burned out on now, but it is something that I enjoy even today. That makes you wonder though, who did kill Kurt? And then there are other things that happen, so who is behind that?
I do have a drawback to share. I did find this movie to be a bit boring. It is odd that the movie is less than 90 minutes so it has a good runtime. What I think is my issue is that the movie is just repetitive. I like the setting; I like the mood and I like that Kurt’s death is early on. We even get another death not too long after that. The problem is from there, the movie meanders a bit. We are getting a lot of evidence or things that drive the story, outside of Nevenka freaking out a few times. I don’t want you to think I hated this, as I don’t. It is well-made with great cinematography. I can even work with slow burns, but I just needed a bit more.
To get back on to the positives, it would be the acting. Lee is a legend. I love him playing this nefarious nobility. He can make you feel bad for him, since we don’t see the horrible things he did in the past. We see though that he’s rude and doesn’t seem to want to change really. I thought he was great. Lavi is solid as well. To be honest, I think she carries this movie with Kurt tormenting her. Kendall is fine as our ‘hero’. He does take a backseat though. Stewart, Medin, De Nardo and Pigozzi are all solid as well to round out what was needed for me.
Then the last things to cover would be the soundtrack and the effects. For the former, we get a solid score. It is brooding and fits for the era. What I like is that it feels like a score you would get in a Hammer film, but with a bit of an Italian vibe to it. This worked for me. As for the effects, we don’t get a lot of them. It also isn’t that type of movie. There was a bit of blood that looked good. I think the wounds we see are fine. If anything, they should play them up a bit more, but it makes sense when they reveal why they don’t. They work for me as well.
So then in conclusion here, this is a solid film from Bava. I think we have an interesting idea of bridging the gothic with a bit of the sleaze that would come from Italy in the next decade. We have some good acting from Lee and Lavi with the rest of the cast pushing them to where they end up. The cinematography is well done and I think the soundtrack helps to build the atmosphere they’re going for. I would say that for me, after this first viewing, I’m sitting on this being an above average movie that is just below being good for me.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10