The Whip and The Flesh (Night of the Phantom, What!, Son of Satan) Directed By Mario Bava, Starring Christopher Lee (1963).
It's been a zillion years since I've seen a Bava or a Christopher Lee film for that matter but after recently picking up an 80's Fango that had an interview with the tall dark and gruesome Brit and having just finished reading the latest Monster! with a stellar article on The Dracula Hammer films by Troy Howarth, I figured it was mandatory to revisit this tale of classy S&M bathed in blueish darkness. Make sure you check out his books on Fulci, Bava and Italian Giallos on Amazon.
Whip was highly controversial at the time for its unabashed clout in depicting the incest relations of a sister and brother and the kinky relationship between Kurt (Lee) and Nevenka (Lavi). There will be no 50 Shades jokes in this review, there's enough of that tripe on the internet.
Everyone is edgy in the gothic castle because the evil Kurt has returned. Lee's dynamic voice is sadly snubbed out by some Italian dude overdubbing his voice, don't let that discourage you from enjoying the film however. According to Perverse Titillation by Danny Shipka, Lee felt so burned by poor dubbing that he wrote in his contract that he's to provide all dubbing for International films from then on.
There's all kinds of sordid family drama concerning Kurt's relatives that wouldn't be out of place on a telenovela.
All the cryptic atmosphere is illuminated by a frost covered window, it's all so gothic and be sure to brace yourself for some slow plot development.
There are secret Young Frankenstein or Scooby Doo style passageways. The hallway even has rows of Knights in armor decor. Kurt must've done something so reprehensible for his father to ostracize him so vehemently, I guess they don't take kindly to misogyny even in the sexist 60s!
The constant howling of a mysterious wind is ever present, even on the beach. The characters dress in Victorian garb and look like walking thrift store knick knacks. Lee uses his whip in a sexual manor toward a girl who slightly resembles Barbara Steele Bava's usual ingenue, but it's actually Daliah Lavi (who was also dubbed). She gets turned on by the violence, a thoroughly taboo concept for the early 60s ( which is why this film was kept out of circulation for many years).
Anytime Lee didn't have to play the infamous bloodsucker I've read he was estastic (so he must've had a blast in this role). Although he had yet to appear in his second Dracula film, Prince of Darkness, so he wasn't that fatigued by the Bram Stoker figure just yet.
A muffled ghostly voice calls Kurt's name and he accidentally gets stabbed by a jewel encrusted dagger. It actually kills him and during his funeral scene all the pallbearers where red hoods like a satanic cult. I know I've seen one of those guys in Lee's other great gothic horror film The Torture Chamber of Dr Sadism. He looks comfortable in a velvet coffin as he should, aye? The priest that conducts the funeral looks Latvian orthodox and its a random choice, it reminds me of that episode of Seinfeld, when George tries to join their sect. The slain father character looks like Herbert Lom.
|Cue Seinfeld bass line|
Nevenka hears phantom whip cracks in the distance and is sexually drawn to them.
She is the object of Lee's perverse obsession, he returns from the grave and whips her, but it could all be a figment of her masturbatory imagination.
The undercurrent of perversity would later on spawn better Bava films in my opinion like Bay of Blood. Whip comes off like a soap opera with incest and S&M, but never really delivers that jolt of fear that you crave from a creepy castle type drama.
|Here's my Robert Blake In Cold Blood impression|
It's slightly tedious and too melodramatic for my liking. Night of the Phantom, one of the alternate titles for this film is also a terrific garage number by Larry & The Blue Notes on a few volumes of the legendary Back From The Grave compilations. I highly recommend all of those records and 9 & 10 just came out a few months ago. Order at Crypt Records.com. As for the film, it take patience of steel, I admire that it has all these odd kinky elements in a more conservative time period, but it just lags too much and the dubbing bogs it down. Make sure you are armed with lots of coffee and watch it during the day. Fandor has the uncut version available to stream.
|Mmmmm BBQ'd corpse, fall off the bone good!|