Whip and the Body, The (1963)

The Whip and the Body (1963), directed by Mario Bava.

Aka Night is the Phantom, The Way of the Body, Son of Satan and What!

A wicked son returns to the castle, causing much distress for the family and servants. They hold him responsible for a suicide, but now his chief menace seems to be sneaking up on people and startling them. He only flogs the women who enjoy it. His sister-in-law both fears and desires him, loves and hates him and what he does.

What if he were suddenly dead, but kept leaving muddy footprints in her bedroom and visiting her with his riding crop at night? Mysterious furtive sounds from the tomb: that's never good.

The plot doesn't hang together very well: it's hard to separate hallucinations from actual supernatural events. The more important elements are (1) the gothic mood with waves crashing on the beach and wind howling around the castle, and (2) the strong S&M content, the combination and contrast of pain and pleasure, fear and desire.

Oddly enough it's also a love story, with the lush romantic score accentuating that aspect. You can hear it in later Badalamenti music.

The whipping scenes were extreme for that year and caused legal challenges in Italy and England. Variously censored versions of the film circulated for years. Lovely Daliah Lavi is perversely, masochistically sensuous, giving it her all.

It's odd how influences bounce between countries. The Corman Poe cycle was much influenced by Bava's Black Sunday (1960). For this film the producers told Bava they wanted something like Corman's Pit and the Pendulum (1961) and his Poe films and the Richard Matheson screenplays were important influences in Italian horror thereafter.

Bava wanted to be a painter and told his actors "I'm mainly a photographer. Trust me and I'll make you look beautiful". The lighting attempts to color the dark shadows, often giving a blue tinge to the blacks.

Bad wigs.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino. Poor image quality. It doesn't help that so much of the film is very dark. Low-contrast night scenes produce large blocky artifacts. I can't tell if the tinted blacks are from the original film, or if some color grading was done for the transfer.

It has both Italian and English audio tracks, neither featuring Christopher Lee's voice. This irked him and in future contracts he stipulated that he be allowed to contribute his own English dubs.

A Bava scholar provides an informative and appreciative commentary track.