La frusta e il corpo

Synopsis: Nevenka’s ex-lover, who is her husband’s brother, Kurt, has come back to claim her and he does so by engaging in a forbidden rendezvous. The next day Kurt is found dead, but his ghost comes back to haunt all those who live in the mansion, and to continue his love affair with Nevenka.
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La frusta e il corpo 7.25

eyelights: The classic set design. The stylish cinematography. The casual pace. The ominous mood.
eyesores: The nonsensical plot twist. The edited version of the film.

Although I’ve seen my fair share of Mario Bava’s oeuvre, between the two Anchor Bay boxed sets and the few separate singles I picked up over the last few years, it seems like there’s a huge gap left for me to fill: his early-to-mid ’60s output.

Strangely enough, just as I was preparing to watch ‘Blood and Black Lace’, I stumbled upon a copy of this rarity in a pawn shop for a measly dollar. It was such a terrific luck of the draw, given that I’d just watched a bunch of ghost stories, and that the ‘Hausu‘ BD refers to Bava.

What excellent timing!

So it was with much excitement that I approached ‘La frusta e il corpo’. I knew very little about it other than it was ghost-related, was more atmospheric, was part of his early-’60s output, and is a favourite of some Bava fans. All of this I found out after making the purchase, of course – being ever-curious, I just had to dig up some trivia about the picture.

I was surprised to find Christopher Lee in one of the leads. While I know that he was in his horror prime with Hammer Films, I never expected him to transient to Italian cinema, let alone work with giallo godfather, Bava! What a delicious match for any fan of european horror films. Who ever could have dreamed of this? (Lee, as one can expect, is terrific.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the film for its mood, its overall vibe. It’s not a scary film, but it’s an atmospheric one – it’s certainly more psychological than visceral. This, as well as its set designs and pace, reminded me of a Hammer Films or American International Pictures production. There’s something delightfully theatrical about them; it wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but those who enjoy this sort of thing are well-served here.

I think that the key difference between Hammer/AIP and this film is that the camerawork, lighting and overall look is slightly artsier – not that this is necessarily difficult to best. In particular, Bava chose a unique way of using colour to light the sets and actors, alternating between orange, green, red and blue as the actors moved on a set. It’s not realistic, but it gives the film a visually pleasing touch.

I also enjoyed the tremendous use of shadows throughout the film, avoiding the over-lighted conditions under similar settings in AIP films. The deep blacks were gorgeous. Granted, they overwhelmed much of the detail, which meant that actors got lost in shadows and so forth, but it still made for a beautiful picture. I’ve read some complaints about it, with some critics stating that it’s a DVD transfer issue. Well, I like it. But I’d sure love to see a restored version for comparison.

The music was pretty good, but there was much repetition of the main theme, which was piano-based and quite lovely. It reminded me of the main theme to ‘Love Story’, whereas other parts were reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith’s exceptional, and way under-rated, score to ‘Psycho II‘. The DVD includes some of the score as bonus tracks and I was eager to hear this immediately after the movie ended.

‘La frusta e il corpo’ is hardly a masterpiece, but it’s an excellent entry in the genre, especially given the era. There were so many ill-conceived horror films at the time, and this one stands out for its quality. Granted, it’s light on plot and it plods about a fair bit before delivering the goods, but I think that there’s something to be said for the virtue of setting the mood.

My only real beef is that I’m pretty sure that, if I were to re-watch ‘La frusta e il corpo’ right now, while the ending is still fresh, the picture wouldn’t hold up – while I can’t say for certain, my gut feeling is that there are some serious continuity issues. But, truth be told, I don’t really want to ruin things; I actually want to enjoy the film for what it is. Because I did enjoy it, flaws and all. I don’t like all of Bava’s work, but this is exactly the kind that bolsters his reputation.

Post scriptum: I must say that I was quite disappointed to find out that VCI Entertainment’s DVD features the 87-minute American edit, not the 91-minute Italian version (as advertised on the box).

I got a hold of them to see if this was a defective disc and if corrected ones were available. They had no idea what I was talking about and kept referring back to the DVD’s claim of being uncut. Urgh. What gross incompetence. Sadly, I don’t know how to get my hands on the film’s original edit. Thanks for nothing, VCI.

Story: 5.0
Acting: 6.5
Production: 6.5

Chills: 6.5
Gore: 3.0
Violence: 4.0

Date of viewing: September 25, 2012

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