One of the strangest and most interesting films made by
a film featuring ahead-of-its-time perversity and the type of visual
brilliance for which Bava is renowned.
For years this 1963 film, with its none-too-disguised
sadomasochistic underpinnings, was known in edited form in the U.S. as
WHAT, with direction credited to “John M. Old.” Only in 2000 did THE
WHIP AND THE BODY (LA FRUSTA E IL CORPO) become commercially available
in its original uncut version, in a now out-of-print DVD from VCI Home
The obnoxious Kurt has returned to the mansion where
his former lover Nevenka resides with her family and husband, who
happens to be Kurt’s brother. It seems the latter was forced into
marrying Nevenka by her father in an effort at weaning her away from
Kurt. Yet Kurt retains his hold over Nevenka, which, as evinced by a
beachside encounter in which he whips her and she enjoys the abuse, is
The following night Kurt is killed, much to the relief
of Nevenka’s father and husband. His ghost, however, is glimpsed by
Nevenka through windows, and the sound of his cracking whip is heard.
Nevenka sees Kurt’s mud-spattered boots creep through her room one
night, and his hand emerge from out of the shadows to rip off her blouse
and whip her, just as he did that fateful day on the beach. Kurt’s ghost
vows to enact revenge on Nevenka’s family, and, sure enough, the next
morning Nevenka’s father is found dead.
Further appearances by Kurt assail the mansion’s other
inhabitants until they decide to open Kurt’s tomb. At this point Kurt
reappears to Nevenka, reminding her that she loves him dearly--which she
tries to deny--and exhorting her to join him in the afterlife.
Nobody has ever managed to replicate the sumptuous,
multi-hued visuals of Mario Bava, which are among the most distinctive
and virtuosic of any filmmaker. For proof check out THE WHIP AND THE
BODY, which is among Bava’s most visually expressive films.
The film’s early nighttime scenes, with their delirious
color scheme and painterly juxtaposition of light and darkness, are a
veritable gothic wet dream highlighted by one of Bava’s most striking
images: a green-lit hand emerging from out of the darkness (which the
heroine accurately likens to “a green spider”). A wildly excessive
faux-romantic score completes the impression.
In the film’s second half the atmosphere shifts
somewhat, from a freaky romance to a more conventional, but no less
eye-popping, ghost story. Nevenka is here relegated to a supporting
role--a mistake, seeing as how the whip-loving Nevenka, as incarnated by
the Israeli knockout Daliah Lavi, is far and away the most interesting
of the film’s characters outside the sadistic Kurt.
The latter is played by Christopher Lee. Kurt is one of
the great man’s most striking roles, with Lee’s imposing physical
presence and haunted aura put to excellent use by Bava (although Lee’s
amazing voice has, as per the custom with Italian movies of the time,
been dubbed over by a far less distinctive one). It’s great we now have
the chance to see this film in its definitive form, and so can fully
appreciate the artistry of Bava and Lee, both of whom were at their most
THE WHIP AND THE BODY (LA FRUSTA E IL CORPO)
Francinor PIP/Leone Film
Director: Mario Bava
Producers: Elio Scardamaglia
Screenplay: Ernesto Gastaldi, Ugo Guerra, Luciano Martino
Cinematography: Ubaldo Terzano
Editing: Renato Cinquini
Cast: Christopher Lee, Daliah Lavi, Tony Kendall, Isli Oberon, Harriette
White Medin, Jacques Herlin, Luciano Pigozzi, Dean Ardow