The Whip and the Body (1963) - Another film from the year I was born. In this Mario Bava directed mystery the sadistic son of a 19th century nobleman appears to rise from the grave to seek revenge on his family which has disowned him.Well written and executed this period piece is a refreshing side trip from all the biker movies I have been watching the last month and a half. Co-written by renown Ernesto Gastaldi, Ugo Guerra and Luciano Martino all prolific, experience writers and producers. Directed by Mario Bava on of the great Italian directors and performed by a cast including Christopher Lee, Daliah Lavi, Tony Kendall and Ida Galli it is one of the better mysteries I have seen in a while.
The story goes that the eldest son Kurt Menliff (Christopher Lee) was sent away from the castle loosing his spot as heir to his father's title after cruelly killing the daughter of the castle's maid Giorgia (Harriet Medin). Details of the girl's death are never shown other than the knife she was killed with, but it is implied that it was a cruel death. So much so that Count Menliff (Gustavo De Nardo) disowned his son after he was implicated. His inheritance and title forfeited to his younger brother Christian (Tony Kendall). Kurt returns to the castle with Giorgia swearing vengence, the old count shaking in fear at his return and Christian now married to Kurt's former lover Nevenka (Daliah Lavi). Complicating the setting further is the revelation that Nevenka only has eyes for Kurt and there relationship includes violent whipping. This must have been somewhat shocking to audiences when this film came out. Kurt standing over the beautiful Nevenka whipping her repeatedly with a horse crop. Nevenka crying out but also showing a quivering anticipation, waiting in an aroused state for the next blow.
The setup aside this film is both simple and wonderfully mysterious. The simple setting and the possible directions turned in a way I was not ready for. The fact that Christopher Lee was the star I figured we would be following him throughout the film. Not so! very early on he is murdered and we are left wondering who killed him. The red herring has to be Giorgia who made it obvious she would love to see him dead. Or how about the younger brother who married Nevenka only after his father required it. He loves his childhood sweetheart Katia (Ida Galli) who follows him around like a puppy dog. (also a suspect), or is it the count himself who out of fear only needs to remove his fear by removing the threat. Or did Nevenka herself do away with the man who both excites and harms her. Then when it seems Kurt starts being seen around the castle at night, it may be his death was faked by him and he has put a diabolical plot in motion to take back what was once his. Now when I was watching it before paying attention to who was in the cast. I saw Christopher Lee and was like" Wow they really got a Christopher Lee look alike for this film." but later I found out it was him but all of his lines were dubbed by someone who sounds nothing like Christopher Lee. Shocking!
Becoming the featured cast member Nevenka leads us through the tale to its conclusion. I make a point never to share too much in a mystery review.In particular one like this which is intriguing all the way through. Bava sets a mood and carries it through the film masterfully. If there is a weakness in the film it is the score by Carlo Rustichelli, not because it is not wonderfully created but because he develops a theme and repeats it too often through the film. When all is said and done though this may be one of Bava's best films. It stands as a really wonderfully developed and acted mystery thriller. Maybe a ghost story if you want to stretch the meaning. So spend a bit of time and go rent this one. I found it on DVD at Netflix.