Sunday, 18 August 2013


Director Mario Bava and I go back a long way, back to 1962 when I was 14 and going to see my first horror film at the Royal Cinema, a local fleapit. The film happened to be Caltiki The Immortal Monster (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) which Bava finished (and photographed) when the original director (and not for the first time with Bava). I didn't last past the still-unnerving titles before impressionable immature little me walked out much to the amusement next day of my classmates. For the record, this never happened again.

I've seen a few of the highly acclaimed and influential cinematographer/director Bava's movies in recent years, though not exhaustively so, including Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) a seminal proto-slasher, Hercules In The Haunted World, Black Sabbath, Black Sunday, Baron Blood, Planet of the Vampires, and just ordered Shock his last completed film which he co-directed with son Lamberto.

Danger: Diabolik is taken from a popular fumetti (comic book to you, squires) which started in the 60s. Diabolik is a ruthless supervillain, a kind of anti-Batman with his own anti-Batcave, a lavish underground lair. He is, as portrayed by American actor John Philip Law, devilishly handsome and charismatic but suffers from one fatal flaw -he actually loves his beautiful girlfriend (played by the beautiful Marisa Mell). He is our hero whom we want to win. At this point I should insert one caveat which stopped me worshipping at the feet of hero -his willingness to casually murder policemen who get in his way.

Not that the film is meant to be taken seriously. It's a gaudy tongue in cheek romp as our hero gets away with one amazing crime after another, humiliating authority at every turn. In one scene he rolls naked in bed with his girlfriend covered by a quilt of stolen banknotes. It's filmed in primary colours and is just oh so late 60s psychedelic. A decadent den of dope takers will have modern viewers howling with laughter, though you can't rule out that this was also Bava's original intention, man.

In one of the extras, comic artist Stephen Bissette points out that Bava paid tribute to its fumetti origins by often having characters appear in natural frames like the rolled down window of a car or seen through modern free standing shelves (conveniently lacking in either books or ornaments).

One of the earliest comic books into movies (bar the likes of Superman, Batman, and Captain America) it still stands out through the bravura skill of Bava's direction as one of the best.

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