Film Reviews:

The Whip and the Body/La frusta e il corpo

aka What!/Le corps et le fouet

(Mario Bava, It/Fr, 1963)

Dating from 1963, this entry into the Bava canon boasts a strong and effective cast. Christopher Lee plays Kurt Menliff who returns to resume his sado-masochistic relationship with Nevenka (played by the striking and talented Daliah Lavi) the fiancee of his brother Christian (Luciano Stella). Problem is Kurt was stripped of his right to inherit the family cliff-top castle and estate by his ageing father Count Menliff (Gustavo de Nardo) and his hardly welcomed with open arms. After several whip-enhanced encounters with Kurt, Nevenka finds herself drawn to his evil yet seductive ways. After upsetting everybody in the household, Kurt is stabbed to death and buried in the family crypt. Despite his death, Kurt returns from beyond the grave to continue seducing Nevenka; and this is bound to lead to trouble!

Although the intervening years have softened the impact of Lee's gleeful whipping of the beautiful Daliah Lavi, the entire sado-masochistic theme is still pretty shocking. When originally released, Bava's film caused censors extreme headaches and it's hardly surprising! The first encounter between Lee and Lavi on the sands of a secluded beach is impressive stuff. As he uses Nevenka's riding crop against her back, Kurt states: "You always liked it violent!". Far from running away, the protracted scene ends with Nevenka's blouse completely torn off her back and her skin covered in bloody welts. Later, when Kurt visits Nevenka in her bedroom and begins whipping her again, she clearly writhes with pleasure despite the pain she experiences and even bites her knuckles seductively.

It's a shame that the rest of the film isn't up to these brief flashes of bravado. The cast, with the exception of Luciano Stella, are uniformly good. Harriet White is great as the old, crabby but haunted mother Giorgia and Luciano Pigozzi provides great entertainment value as a Peter Lorre-look-a-like manservant. The design aspects of the production (as you'd expect from a Bava film) are fine - the sets are particularly atmospheric. The problem lies in the structure of the plotting. A repetitive pattern of events occurs throughout the entire film which switch the action between bed chambers and corridors to the castle exterior and the crypt, becoming tedious before we're three-quarters through the film. The structural weaknesses aside, this is still well worth catching if you're a genre fan and haven't seen it before.

Rob Dyer