Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Title: Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Director: Mario Bava

Cast: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell


Mario Bava mostly worked on suspense and horror films. He is best known for having directed such horror classics as Black Sabbath (1963), Black Sunday (1960) and Kill Baby Kill! (1966).  Yet every now and then, Bava took a detour into different genres. Such was the case with Danger: Diabolik a film that was based on an Italian comic book of the same name. The comic was about Diabolik, an anti-hero that fought evil with evil. In the comics, Diabolik’s way of punishing villains was usually with death. The comic book - or “fumetti” as comics are known in Italy- is the longest running and most successful comic book in that country. So of course since the comic book being was so popular, a good adaptation was expected. Those expectations were met by Bava’s film. Many critics agree that Danger: Diabolik was one of the most faithful comic book adaptations of its time.

The film is based on the longest running Italian comic book of the same name

Danger: Diabolik is about a super-criminal who goes around stealing from and making fun of the government. Basically, he works as a Robin Hood of sorts, only instead of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor; he steals from the government and keeps it to himself. Actually, he steals for himself and his smoking hot girlfriend Eva Kemp, who seems to have nothing better to do then to worship and adore Diabolik. Well, besides adoring him, she also helps him in his criminal escapades. The whole movie consists of Diabolik stealing things from the government. 10 million dollars, 7 priceless jewels and a giant gold ingot.

I have to admit, I immediately tool a liking to Diabolik and his attitude. As is the case in many parts of the world, Diabolik figures that the government is dirty and that they unjustly take too much from their people, so he takes justice into his own hands and steals from them. The character is kind of like a hero to the people in that sense. He might not steal from the government to give to the poor, but in a way, he takes from those who unjustly take too much from those who have very little. From those who have put their trust in them. I love how every time he steals something and gets away with it, he laughs this evil laugh. It’s an overpowering laugh, a powerful laugh, almost as if he was getting back at the government for us. His laugh in a way says “we got away with it! And there is nothing they can do about it! Ha Ha Haaaaa!” Many times, when a country is under the rule of a despotic government, its people feel powerless. What can one individual do against the powerful government machine, with its guns, tear gas and unrelenting police force? Nothing. The efforts of the subversive are usually met with violence and death. But in the fantasy of Diabolik’s world, the rebellious side wins! And in this way Diabolik is a hero of sorts. An anti-hero to be more precise.

Looking cool and taking names!

Since Diabolik is a character that is 100% against the system, Bava ‘s film connected with the anarchy that Italian youths were going through in those days. In a way, Danger: Diabolik is a love letter to anarchy. In the film, the government is taught a lesson by having their precious money taken from them. Diabolik manages to steal 10 million dollars from under their noses! And what does Diabolik steal their money for? So that he can make love on top of it with Eva on his gigantic rotating circular bed! That’s what he steals it for! By the way, that is one of the most memorable visuals in the film. Diabolik and Eva making out on top of ten million dollars. The bad guys on this movie are cops and government officials, and anything that Diabolik does is to hurt their finances or their pride. One scene manages to transmit that air of complete disrespect for authority. It’s the scene in which the head of police is giving a speech, and Diabolik releases a laughing gas (called “exhilarating gas”) amongst the crowd. In seconds, the crowd is laughing at every word that the head of police is saying! The head of police joins them in exhilarating laughter while Diabolik and Eva sit back and enjoy the mayhem. They themselves don’t get affected by the gas because they took their “anti-exhilarating” gas capsules.

There is a genuine desire with this movie to demonstrate that the government is simply doing a terrible job at administering the peoples taxes. One scene has Diabolik declare that they are putting the peoples money to such bad use that they don’t deserve to have it. So what does he do? He blows up all of the banks and governments tax buildings! I got flashbacks of Tyler Durden blowing up the credit card buildings in Fight Club (1999) while watching those scenes.

Dandger: Diabolik is very much a comic book movie and Bava’s usual play with colors serves this film perfectly. Bava frames images on this film as if they were comic book panels, but he does it in a way that you would not expect. It’s certainly not as obvious as what Ang Lee did in Hulk (2003), where he literally framed things within a comic book panel. Nope, Bava framed things, but he used objects in the scenery to do this. He used elements in the foreground and background of the frame to achieve that comic book look and feel. On the other hand, this feels a lot like a James Bond film as well. We have secret underground lairs, car chases, helicopter chases, we get submarines, and lots and lots of sexual innuendoes.

Speaking of the sexual references in this film, they are many! To start things off, Diabolik and Eva are really crazy about each other! Right from the get go, when the film begins, we see Diabolik returning to Eva with the ten million dollars, the immediately end up making out on top of the money. I always thought it was a cool thing about Diabolik that was fuels him to do all these things is his love for Eva, to make her happy. They both live in this luxurious underground lair that even includes a Jacuzzi! All through out the film there are many phallic symbols, one scene stands out in which Diabolik is holding a laser gun (while he is shirtless by the way) and she looks on devouring him with her eyes. He then grabs a hose so that he can transport melted gold onto a mold, and she bites her lips as the gold splurts out! It doesn’t get any more obvious then that my friends. In this way, Bava makes fun of the sexual elements in James Bond films as well. It doesn’t hurt that Bava chose really beautiful looking people for this film either. John Phillip Law and Marisa Mell ooze sexy hotness on screen. It helps that they were both romantically involved while filming Danger: Diabolik.

Is that a toy gun in between your legs, or are you just happy to see me?

In closing, I’d like to say that this is a really beautiful looking film, something that one can come to expect from a Mario Bava film. There are moments when Bava simply focuses on his sets (something he also did in Black Sunday) just so you, the audience can truly appreciate them. The characters and story hold very true to their comic book roots and simply put, this is a very sexy picture. A homage to anarchy, and spy films. Interesting how one of Bava’s best films ends up not being a horror film.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Danger: DiabolikDanger: Diabolik ( Danger: Diabolik! ) ( Diabolik ) [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2 Import - United Kingdom ]Danger: Diabolik Poster Italian 27x40 John Phillip Law Marisa Mell Michel PiccoliBlack Sunday


Cal said...

great review! I always found this film strange in the sense that Diabolik is realy a villian yet he's the films hero!

Mr. Fiendish said...

Agreed 100%. This is a perfect film.

Franco Macabro said...

@youngblood: thats what makes this film unique! I loved it precisely for that.

@Mr. Fiendish: Yeah! Loved every second of it! It turned into one of my favorite Bava films, Bava took such care with the art direction, I loved how Diabolik's lair looked, everything in it was special.

The Beasty Boys video "Body Moving" was hilarious, it was included on the dvd as well.

Unknown said...

Yeah, I thought it was a nice touch including the "Body Movin'" video by the B-Boys - such a loving homage to Bava's film which has to have one of THE coolest production/set designs ever! I also love Ennio Morricone's soundtrack on this one. It just fits the action on screen so well. What a fun, fun film.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree on the production design, its truly inspired. It was interesting to see Bava using miniatures and matte paintings to save money.

And its even more interesting to learn how DeLaurentis offered Bava 3 million dollars to make this movie, yet Bava made it for little more then 400 thousand!

DeLaurentis offered Bava the rest of the money so he could make a sequel, but Bava decided he wanted to move onto something else.

Thanks for commenting J.D.!

Will said...

I found it so weird that the MST3K folks went out with this film as their finale. They received a lot of criticism for this since many thought, as you do, that the film was a)a faithful adaptation to the comic, b)a slickly produced and unique look at the Bondian/criminal mind, and c)not exactly braindead. . .about as goofy or as silly as the Bond films to come (anyone see You Only Live Twice? These two films are about on par for strangeness).

Also, it was one of the few MST3K films I actually really enjoyed watching when it was on and actually watched it WITHOUT Mike and the bots.

Great review and great film.

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I read about the criticism they received for doing that, but it was probably in good fun. I mean, they made fun of many other sci-fi classics as well, Diabolik wasnt the only one.

Cool thing is that after that MSTK3 episode the film actually received a special edition dvd with a couple of extras in it, like a short docu on the film and its history (very informative on the film) and the beasty boys video. It also has a commentary, its worth every penny.

Im thinking the dvd release came as a result of that episode airing, so at least something good came of it!


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