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DVD Review: The Whip And The Body / Conspiracy Of Torture

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Midnight Choir, a new DVD label (and sub-label of Johnny Legend’s Legend House label), has already made a name for themselves with their initial release, a dynamic double-pairing of classic Italian flicks from horror maestros Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci.

The Whip And The Body (La Frusta E Il Corpo) brings us one of several memorable collaborations between acclaimed director Mario Bava (perhaps best known for his epic Gothic nightmare Black Sunday) and the ever-popular actor Christopher Lee. Originally released in the U.S. under the decidedly silly title What! (which surely must have been the censors’ reaction to the regular title), The Whip And The Body is a lushly-photographed ghost story with a little bit of good ol’ fashioned S&M thrown in for good measure.

Kurt (Lee), the banished and disgraced eldest son of the Menliff estate, decides to return home one night, citing his arrival is to congratulate his younger brother Christian (Tony Kendall, the star of numerous Kommissar X films in Germany) upon his marriage to the seductive Nevenka (Daliah Lavi, the best-looking 007 ever!), who at one point was betrothed to Kurt.

Neither the family members nor the servant of the Menliff household are all that thrilled to see Kurt again. He’s a sadistic, brutal shell of a man, and everyone has good reason to see him dead.

It doesn’t take long for Kurt to make everyone miserable. He insults the staff (including a poor servant, the mother of a woman who committed suicide over him), offends his father The Count, and immediately picks up where he left off with Nevenka – seducing the helpless woman and whipping her into a state of frenzy before having his way with her on the beach. (Bava’s inimitable eye for capturing the natural scenery around him shines through here.)

Soon afterward, Kurt is mysteriously murdered, but continues to torment poor Nevenka – whip in hand. As far as supernatural sadomasochistic movies go, this one’s a winner.

Not to be confused with the Bush Administration or Guantanamo Bay, Lucio Fulci’s Conspiracy Of Torture (aka Beatrice Cenci) marks one of the cult director’s rare period pieces, made long before he found his calling in the likes of horror and giallo movies like Zombi 2, The Beyond, or the epic The New York Ripper. Told in flashback, Conspiracy Of Torture brings us Lucio’s account of the events of Beatrice Cenci (played by lead actress Adrienne Larussa), the daughter of bloodthirsty aristocrat, Francesco Cenci (French great Georges Wilson).

Having lived in Rome for years and committing every sin in the book on a regular basis to satisfy his own depraved lusts (including murder, incest, and the titular torture), Francesco is forced to flee the city when even the church has decided they’ve had enough of his debauchery, and flees to his country castle.

While there, his family members — having grown weary of his increasing collection of “Worst Father Of The Year” trophies — conspire to kill him, to which Beatrice’s secret lover Olimpo (the very wonderful top-billed Tomas Milian, a bit out of his usual Spaghetti Western/Cop roles) is involved.

Strangely enough, the papal police are outraged at Francesco’s brutal death, and brutally torture poor Olimpo (did I mention there was torture in this film?). Eventually, the whole Cenci clan is arrested and sentenced to death by the church.

Apart from Lucio’s torture sequences, in which a man is the victim (a far cry from his later works wherein women are treated oh-so-viciously, prompting many viewers and scholars to believe the director was something of a misogynist), Conspiracy Of Torture contains a very strong anti-Catholic message (which I think may actually be punishable by death in Italy), and depicts the members of the church as greedy, ferocious hypocrites that are as flawed as the sins for which they condemn others.

What’s there not to like about it? Okay, so from a historical standpoint Conspiracy Of Torture is probably as accurate as your average Roland Emmerich film, but Fulci nevertheless succeeds in entertaining his audience admirably with some very wonderful camerawork and a stern sense of realism.

Midnight Choir’s double-bill release starts up with a root menu from which you can select either feature. The Whip And The Body is presented in its original widescreen ratio with anamorphic enhancement.

The presentation of the film here may be the best-looking US release to date, as it appears to contain more visual information and appears to have been taken from a sharper, more colorful print than the one used in VCI’s release (although I could be mistaken; I didn’t have the VCI edition on hand to compare, unfortunately).

The credits are in Italian with a few non-removable English subtitles popping up to translate the key crewmembers’ names (which are Anglicized names, incidentally – pretty funny, really; I guess Mario was trying to convince the rest of Italy that this movie was made in the UK or the US).

Conspiracy Of Torture’s opening credits (which also include some new, non-removable English translations in select places) look a bit worse for wear, but as soon as they end the film takes on a new life. The colors, contrast, and balance of the picture look wonderful. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, this is the first (and therefore the best) Statewide release of this title on DVD (to my knowledge, at least).

Both titles feature English-dubbed Mono Stereo soundtracks as their only audio option and sound absolutely fine (note to Christopher Lee fans: The Whip And The Body does not feature Lee’s voice even though he recorded his lines in English, and his dialogue has been replaced by another actor). No subtitles are offered (aside from in the aforementioned credits).

With there is no mention of them on the back cover, the addition of a few special features are a plus – and include an Italian language trailer for The Whip And The Body (3:27) and a German trailer for Conspiracy Of Torture (3:31), bearing the title Die Nackte Und Der Kardinal. Both trailers are not subtitled and are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.

With a retail price of only $19.99, Midnight Choir’s release of The Whip And The Body and Conspiracy Of Torture back to back comes recommended for fans and newbies alike.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.
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