Maria Bava's 1963 ghost story The Whip and the Body is a gothic romance with a kinky twist.
Hammer Horror-man Christopher Lee stars as Kurt Menliff, the outcast son of a wealthy family who returns to his father's Victorian castle upon learning that his little brother (Tony Kendall) has married Kurt's one-time betrothed, Nevenka (Daliah Lavi, Lord Jim [review], Casino Royale [review]). Kurt is intent on regaining his birthright, as well as reasserting his dominance over his former lover. Nevenka, as Kurt demonstrates, has always had "a little violence in her," and is thus aroused by the snap of his whip.
Things take a spooky turn when Kurt is murdered, killed with a dagger that has past history for the family. The Menliffs are a complicated clan, and when more strange happenings and murders occur once Kurt is buried, there is some question of whether the killer is his ghost (as Nevenka contends) or one of the many other suspects in the castle. Katia (Ida Galli), for instance, has reason to hate Nevenka: she was originally due to marry the younger Menliff before Kurt's banishment threw a spanner in the works.
The Whip and the Body is a solid tale of haunting, though Bava is more concerned with the creep factor in the bodice-ripping love triangle than he is jump scares, gore, or your basic bump-in-the-night material. This makes for a rather satisfying chiller, where the twists and turns are reliant on whose delusion and/or explanation you choose to believe. Unsurprisingly, Lee pulls off the required menace as the vengeful specter, and Lavi is a all kinds of gorgeous as the breathless damsel in distress. Add to the mix Ubaldo Terzano's colorful photography and Carlo Rustichelli's evocative period music, and The Whip and the Body is a tantalizing costume drama about doomed love.
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