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February 19, 2004

{     Danger: Diabolik     }    

Somewhere between campy and cool, between hero and villian, between Connery's Bond and Adam West's Batman lives a man named Diabolik. Italian schlock-horror maestro Mario Bava brought this character to startling life in his 1968 film Danger: Diablolik. Equal parts comic book and pulp novel, the film oozes with color and style, boasting an absolutely devastating psycho-pop soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone (who scored The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.) A flop at the box office, Danger: Diabolik has never really gotten it's due. Underappreciated does not begin to describe it- this film has suffered distribution problems, a retooling of the soundtrack which substitutes bland spy jazz for Morricone's moody themes, and little hope of new life in the dvd format, among other trials and tribulations. It is a damn shame (a fucking damn shame, if you will) because Diabolik is one of the most imaginitive and surprisingly well-executed films to be put to screen. Originally offered a $3million dollar budget by ever-insane film producer Dino de Laurentis, Bava shot the film for just over $400k, a move you will never see in today's industry. With cheap but effective lighting, Bava manipulates the colors of the film's interiors, infusing them with a hyper-real life. Even when filming outdoors the otherwordly feel is conveyed by costuming decisions and frenetic camerawork, all to the delicious beat of Morricone's soundtrack. Actor John Phillip Law turns out the lead role, and since much of the film involves him running around partially masked, he does most of his acting with explosive body language and some of the most expressive eyebrows ever filmed. Bava supplements Law's performance with sweeping pans, quick cuts and insane close-ups. Diabolik is a true anti-hero, a super-thief with an insatiable lust for wealth, sex and luxurious material goods. He works for himself, and his morals are his own. This guy makes the current crop of "action heroes" look like the douchebags they really are (yeah, I'm talkin' to you, Vin Deisel!) Add in a supporting cast that includes a bumbling detective, an evil mastermind, a slew of trippin' hippies and the luscious Marisa Mell as sexpot-sidekick Eva, and things start to get a bit intoxicating. The inclusion of two Jaguar E-types will have the gearhead in you doing an on-the-spot oil change, and the spy-fi styled sets (especially Diabolik's lair) will have you hooked. Danger: Diabolik has the distinct honor of being the one of the last films to get it's chops busted by the MST3K crew, though in all fairness by the time they got around to the last season, they were pulling at straws, and this one got picked because it made an easy Austin Powers-esque target. While the retro-kitsch is certainly rockin' in Diabolik , it bypasses the so-bad-it's-good category and rockets right into so-insane-it's-amazing. Since it's only available on VHS (and under 10 cool ones at that), Diabolik stands as one of the few reasons it's still worth owning your VCR. Since the copy I've seen was dubbed off AMC, and they made a point of letting you know the film was being seen uncut and had it's original soundtrack, I can't guarantee that the VHS release will live up to the hype I've wildly tossed it's way, but it will at least let you catch a glimpse of the dangerous, deadly and ever so sexy world of Danger: Diabolik!

     » Buy it...

Comments

I second Adam's recommendation. Most people tend to focus on Bava's horror works, yet this piece is among his strongest. I picked this up in Pittsburgh a few years back because I was tired of seeing other things reference it. If I remember correctly, an Acme skateboards video, the Beastie Boys "Body Movin" video, and Roman Coppola's "CQ" all pay homage to this lovely espionage thriller. And John Phillip Law is amazing!

Posted by: Eric Swisher at February 19, 2004 10:49 PM

Props to The Swish for pointing out an erroneously credited Barbarella reference in an early draft of this posting- that was Roger Vadim, not my man Mario B calling the shots. Nice work tracking the influence of this film too, it's just a shame that because Bava broke genres with this (his usual mein being horror) it's not even celebrated by some of his most hardcore fans. I'm at the point where I want to start a petition to get this classic reminted for the DVD generation. Roman Coppola, Beastie Boys- I know you cats are listening (who doesn't pay attention to the crowndozen comment pages?) and it's time to give a little back by using your influence to get this film ressurected.
Word to your moms.

Posted by: Adam at February 19, 2004 11:54 PM
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