THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963) – The Dungeon Review!

It was so long ago; I had almost completely forgotten it was actually my mom who introduced me to Mario Bava! My mom is not a horror fan by any means, but she recalled seeing ‘Blood and Black Lace’ as a teenager, and it completely rocked her world. I have to admit, having seen ‘BABL’ in my teen years; it struck me as somewhat interesting, but far too tame. Sadly, it wasn’t until I became an adult that I began to appreciate older horror films. I still have so many to discover, including some classic standards like ‘Frankenstein’. (I know! Shame on me!) But I have gotten to know Mr. Bava pretty well over the last few years. ‘The Whip and The Body’ is one of the few Bava films I had not seen, and it most definitely did not disappoint.

‘The Whip and The Body’ is part gothic horror tale and part sadomasochist love story. Christopher Lee plays Kurt Menliff who has returned home to the family estate after several years away. He does not receive a warm welcome from his family, or the servants who hold Kurt responsible for a young woman’s suicide. He claims to have returned to congratulate his brother on his recent marriage to the beautiful Nevenka, with whom he once had a relationship. But old flames still burn between the two and the dark secret they share is explored once more. Her passion overwhelms her and she gives in to the pleasures of pain. Later that evening Kurt is found with a dagger plunged into his neck. Soon after the funeral, Kurt returns from the grave, appearing only to Nevenka. Clearly Nevenka is afraid but is also excited by the apparition of Kurt. What unfolds is deliciously diabolical, erotic violence presented with a gothic grandness aptly titled ‘The Whip and The Body’.

‘The Whip and The Body’ must have been considered pretty racy in its day. I knew what the film was about but I expected more subtle hints than graphic displays. The first intimate scene between Kurt and Nevenka occurs early in the film when he finds Nevenka alone on the beach. He whips her repeatedly as she cries out in ecstasy and the two then engage in sex. You see the whipping up close and personal but the sex is off camera. Nevenka is clearly torn between her morality and her passion and every scene is a struggle between the two. Her lust is animalistic and the stunning Daliah Lavi plays it like a storm is brewing between her legs that she cannot control. Her orgasms are practically a character themselves! Christopher Lee is cold as ice as her brutal lover. Although he appears both vicious and callous, his character at times comes off slightly romantic and tragic. Lee and Lavi both have a strong presence and give outstanding performances.

There is plenty to admire about Mario Bava’s Gothic Masterpiece. There is breath-taking scenery, incredible atmosphere, awesome sets, a haunting and effective score and the aforementioned excellent performances. But more than anything else it is strikingly beautiful. I greatly admire Bava’s cinematography but not being a technically minded sort, you’ll have to forgive me for my layman language. Simply put, nothing looks quite like a Bava film! Shadows and colour are overwhelmingly present in all his films although this one may be slightly more muted than others it is nonetheless a sensual kaleidoscope. It truly is an enthralling visual experience! I could probably go on for several paragraphs in detail about the visuals but a Bava film is something that really should be experienced first hand.

The only real issues I had with the film was its first act where we are introduced to several characters is far too vague. This section of the film seemed somewhat repressed for a Bava flick and looked and felt almost typical for a gothic themed film from the era. It’s quite brief though, and things get considerably more lively and focused after Kurt and Nenenka’s tryst on the beach. Also the DVD was available with both English and Italian language soundtracks, but sadly neither featured Lee’s actual voice. That is a crying shame, because Lee has a fantastic voice!

Mario Bava’s ‘The Whip and The Body’ is immensely entertaining! It is a hypnotic and haunting vision that should be a treat for Bava’s fans or just about anybody who enjoys Gothic Horror. You can definitely expect more Bava reviews during Italian Horror Month! Highly recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5

Directed By: Mario Bava

Starring: Daliah Lavi, Christopher Lee, Tony Kendall, Ida Galli, Harriet Medin, Gustavo De Nardo, Luciano Pigozzi, Jacques Herlin

8 Responses to “THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963) – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. hagiblog Says:

    Sounds good! I have not seen enough of Mario Bava’s work so I should be keeping an eye open for his flicks. Not that I don’t have enough to watch already! HAHA!

    I wonder where this ranks among your favorites of his?

  2. goregirl Says:

    My FOUR favourite Bava films without a doubt are BAY OF BLOOD (aka Twitch of The Death Nerve), BLACK SUNDAY, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and KILL BABY KILL. Most of these are older (60’s) with the exception of BAY OF BLOOD (71). BAY is considered to be the the film that inspired the 80’s slashers! (Be warned though, many people count this amongst their least favourite Bava film and many complain the film is confusing.) All four of these films get a perfect 5/5 from me!

    If you are buying though and not renting BEWARE!! There are some really bad copies of his older films out there! REALLY Awful!

  3. This film is absolutely exquisite. The premise is fascinating, the lighting, sets, and lead performances are purely sublime, and the atmosphere is so thick you could stick it with a butter knife.

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  6. […] The Whip and the Body is the first of three Mario Bava films to make the list for 1963. The Whip and the Body is a dark, gothic sadomasochist love story. Mario Bava’s breath-taking scenery, incredible sets, stunning score and lovely soft muted tones scream with electric and chilling atmosphere. Christopher Lee is particularly dashing and gorgeous Daliah Lavi oozes sexuality; the two are impossibly steamy together. The Whip and the Body is a deliciously diabolical, beautiful, haunting, tragic, brutal and erotically-charged tale not to be missed. To read my full review click here. […]

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