By Kurly Tlapoyawa
Directed by Mario Bava
Cast: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell
Are you sick and tired of played-out Hollywood pretty boys trying their hardest to be “action stars” and convince you how cool they are? I think I just might have the cure for your dilemma--and it wears a skintight rubber outfit. That's right, boys and girls, the folks at Paramount have finally decided to dip into their archives and unleash upon the world a DVD so damn cool that you could throw it in an ice chest to chill your drinks. So let's bust out the tie-dye and sitars and take a dip into the psychedelic '60s for film legend Mario Bava's spectacular tribute to the Italian comic book series Danger: Diabolik.
Some of you may recall this film as the final movie to get the honor of being featured on “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” and if you happened to miss that episode (the last of the series) you missed out. Danger: Diabolik stars John Phillip Law (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) as a black-costumed international criminal who spends his time either robbing from the super-rich or getting it on with his wicked hot lady Eva (played by European sex kitten Marisa Mell). When the Italian government gets fed up with Diabolik's dirty deeds, they give the police force “special powers” to help them in their quest to take him down, leading police inspector Ginco (Michel Piccoli) to join forces with the gangster Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi, who was also the villain in Thunderball).
The film was shot by Italian B-movie legend Mario Bava (Black Sabbath) for Dino de Laurentis in 1967, and it's Bava's unparalleled skill with a camera that makes this movie stand out. Bava treats us to a visual feast of spectacular colors, set design and beautifully framed shots. When these elements are combined with the supremely hip psychedelic score composed by none other than maestro Ennio Morricone (who also composed the incredible score to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) we are left with a living pop-art masterpiece. This is a film that belongs as a video installation in a modern art museum as much as it belongs in a movie theater.
Danger: Diabolik follows the titular character through various capers and heists as the Mafia and the cops fall all over themselves trying to catch him--without any luck, of course. One of the coolest sequences has Diabolik scaling the side of a castle tower using suction devices in order to steal Eva a precious necklace for her birthday. Beastie Boys fans will recognize this exact scene from the Diabolik-themed music video “Body Movin'.” Another sequence features Diabolik smacking around Valmont while they both freefall to the earth after jumping from an airplane--how cool can you get? This guy has it all: the kick-ass costume, gadgets galore, the hot babe, his and hers Jaguar XKEs and an underground lair that makes the Bat Cave look like just another hole in the dirt.
Due to the film's remarkable use of color and musical cues, Diabolik has been unjustly labeled “campy” by its detractors, many of whom draw comparisons between Diabolik and the old “Batman” television series. This is hardly the case, as Danger: Diabolik is devoid of goofy pratfalls and cheesy one-liners. And frankly, Adam West's Bruce Wayne isn't fit to wax Diabolik's mask. The pure artistry displayed in the film's execution is enough to set it apart from any “camp” television series. By using a series of matte paintings to mask the lack of any actual sets, Bava manages to create an elaborate world for Diabolik to inhabit. Also, the use of unconventional camera angles mimics the panels on a comic book page to great effect.
One thing that stands out about this film is that, despite a complete absence of nudity, the film drips of raw sexuality. From the fetish-like design of Diabolik's costume to the cutting edge fashions worn by the female characters, sexuality permeates every frame. This is helped, of course, by Bava's choice of angles and how well he employs the score to create a feeling of sexual adventure. When Diabolik and Eva get it on in a bed covered in 10 million bucks, we know that their passion for one another is authentic. Plus, the scene provides one of the best musical cues ever.
Paramount did a really great job on the DVD for this one. The film's gorgeous print is presented in widescreen format, there is a short documentary on adapting the comic book to film, plus John Phillip Law and Tim Lucas (of Video Watchdog magazine) give a pretty thorough and insightful audio commentary. Also included on the disc are the theatrical trailers and the Beastie Boys video. So what are ya waiting for? Go watch this movie now! (Paramount Home Video)
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