Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Whip and the Body (1963): or, When a Dead Guy Comes Along, You Must Whip It!

A wild little Italian chiller from the early 60s directed by Mario Bava, The Whip and the Body has ghosts, insanity, aristocratic incest, and the wonderful color and style that's always a trademark of the maestro's horror works.

The frenetic plotline maps out like this: a young Christopher Lee is dashingly handsome as the black sheep of a decaying aristocratic family who reappears at just the wrong time for everyone involved. His younger brother is married to their cousin (who is also Chris’s former lover!), but is also having an affair with a young housemaid, whose mother despises Chris for having driven her eldest daughter (the housemaid’s sister) to suicide!

Their father, the Count, is an invalid who has disowned Chris, but Chris has vowed to challenge the old man's will and is sure he will win as the firstborn (and thus entitled) son of the count.

After a day or two of whipping his old lover into a frenzy (both figuratively and literally) and irritating his brother and father to no end, Chris is unexpectedly found dead--murdered!--with the very knife the housemaid’s daughter used to kill herself! Problem solved, right?

WRONG! Soon the increasingly unhinged former lover is seeing Chris’s corpse stalking the castle in the moonlight, and is even subjected to the sado-masochistic whipping of her life and his undeath, which is apparently something they were both into. Is Chris back from the dead, or is something else going on here?

It all leads up to a pretty effective ending, as I recall, but I admit to being hammered when the end credits rolled. :) This is a lesser-known Bava film that shows all his trademark atmospheric use of color and strange plots. The seaside castle setting is used wonderfully, and there is some great 60s Italian eye candy here, though I can’t help thinking it would have blown the top off the awesome-meter if Barbara Steele had played Chris’s lover instead of the lovely but less mesmerizing Daliah Lavi. Still, there’s plenty of creepiness with Chris’s corpse on walkabout, and the whipping scene is quite arousing if you’re into that--and who isn’t, eh? Nice little perverse Italian period chiller. 2.5 thumbs.

Bonus: Chris often cites this as one of his favorite of his many screen roles.


Karswell said...

This is a good film. I remember seeing it as a kid under the title "What" on Creature Feature late one Saturday night. I can also remember an Abbott & Costello "Who's on First?" type moment at school the following week when I was trying to ask my friends if they watched WHAT and what they thought. What? Yeah, what? What movie? Exactly. What are you talking about? Right! What? Yes, did you watch it? What? Yes.

The Vicar of VHS said...


Karswell said...

Third base...

Pearl said...

I have heard that there is an r-rated version of this maravelous film floating around. About fifteen years ago I bought a ragtag VHS copy from Sinister Cinema. Can anybody help me?

The Vicar of VHS said...

Hi Pearl!

I'm not sure about an alternate version--I admit the copy I had was a public domain "2-for-a-dollar" type I got at a local bargain store. The imdb page (here: says something about a region 2 PAL release that is "complete," but the included scenes don't sound like they'd push the movie up a rating.

However, FWIW the imdb also lists this as "unrated" in the US and "X" in the UK, originally.

Maybe it'll wind up on the next Bava box set!

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