Monday, September 15, 2008

The Whip and the Body (1963)

So, I was sitting in the dentists' chair about an hour ago, spitting up blood and bits of shredded gums, when I started thinking about S&M. No, I wasn't getting off on the experience. Sure, the hygienist was attractive, but I'm not really the kind of guy that gets off on pain. No need to worry about getting a sudden arousal on the chair if you know what I mean. Still, some people do get off on this shit. I'm not going to judge them. I think it's great actually. As long as the pain doesn't harm them long term or lead them to being eaten for someone else's pleasure, what's the harm? We, as a society, should embrace this. Yet, we don't really. Hell, if you go into any adult video store (not that I have), you'll notice that the S&M flicks are tucked away in the corner, while the "chicks with dicks" and the "golden shower" collections are displayed in full view. Too freaky even for the freaky. You would think our society would eat this shit up. We love violence in films. We love hardcore sex (even though we're too ashamed to admit it). Perfect fucking fit. Oh well...

So, anyway, I'm sitting in that chair when I also began reflecting on this picture I watched over the weekend. A little, widely unknown, Mario Bava picture called The Whip and the Body. Shit, man, I really dug this one. Here's a picture made in the early 1960s dealing with a taboo subject and set in the 19th century. Yeah, the italians were always a little ahead of the curve. Except for the fascism. I never really approved of that. This is not an easy film to categorize. Part S&M romance, part gothic horror, part psychological shocker. Christopher Lee turns in one of his better performances (that I've seen anyway). I'm stunned that this wasn't included in either one of the Bava box sets I recently purchased. While both volumes include some bonafide classics (Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Kill Baby Kill, Rabid Dogs, Bay of Blood), they also include some absolute clunkers (Five Dolls For An August Moon anyone?) All the elements that make a great horror picture are present within The Whip and The Body; atmospherics, unique story, fog machine working overtime, Christopher Lee, an astoundingly beautiful lead actress (Daliah Lavi), and Bava's unique use of color.

The story seems simple enough. Lee plays an exiled nobleman banished from his home castle as a result of his sexual deviance (and the possible murder of a young girl). Years later, he returns to an icy reception (his acknowledgement of his families reception is one of the film's funniest moments), but is allowed to stay. It isn't long before he feeds his fetishistic impulses with his younger brother's wife and former lover, Nevenka (Lavi) on the beach (involving a whip and her body). Although resistant at first, it's soon clear that she quite gets off on it and the scene ends with them making love on the beach as a horse looks on in the distance (that particular fetish, i'm sure they saved for the sequel). Shortly thereafter, Lee is murdered (in a strange sequence involving flying drapes and a knife) and his body laid to rest in a crypt by his, not so distraught, family (except for Nevenka). If he was murdered, why does Nevenka see him throughout the castle? Whose tracking mud all over the house? Who the fuck murdered pops? Is Lee still alive? Has he joined the ranks of the undead? Is this a bad Hammer sequel?

This picture oozes gothic atmosphere. There are some chilling moments, all from the perspective of Nevenka. I have trouble classifying this as horror though. Strangely, it's more of a twisted love story than anything else. Nevenka's husband, Christian (the comatose Tony Kendall) isn't really worthy of her love. He's simply boring. I'm sure there sex life involves him just lying on his back half asleep. Later, he probably retires to the study to jerk off to internet porn. There are other characters that factor into the story; a mysterious matriarch, the aforementioned pops, a not-quite-right caretaker. Some scenes even reminded me of Dracula (pick your version), in particular the one where Christian and the caretaker search Lee's crypt to make sure he's in it.

Still, the film belongs to Lavi who just wanted to feel the love of a strip of leather tearing the skin off her back. Why should we begrudge her these pleasures? It's like Linda Lovelace and the clitoris in her throat. We all feel pleasure differently. As I continued to sit in that chair, spitting up pulpy blood for the nineteenth time, I couldn't help but wonder: Why am I so different?


Beepy said...

I think this is a classic Brian review. If I had a file called "My Favorite Brian Reviews" this would go in it Would it be creepy to start such a file?

brian said...

i'd love to see that file. start away!