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Blu-ray Review: Two by Mario Bava

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and THE WHIP & THE BODY
by Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain

Amidst the cultural wave of boutique Blu-ray labels, Italian terror titan Mario Bava’s work has perhaps been best served, with superior, often extras-packed editions of his gloriously distinctive shock popping up on a regular basis. This year alone has been particularly rich release-wise, with robust deluxe packages of his long-lost crime potboiler RABID DOGS, the ALIEN-inspiring PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, and a striking limited edition of his magnum opus BLACK SUNDAY hitting shelves either side of the pond; a fitting way to celebrate what would have been the maestro’s centenary. And now two more can join the party: his 1963 double whammy of THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and THE WHIP & THE BODY, let loose by the UK’s Arrow Video and Odeon Entertainment, respectively.
With a luxurious wealth of Bava goodness to their name already – the aforementioned RABID DOGS and BLACK SUNDAY, and Bava’s third 1963 offering, the Boris Karloff-starring portmanteau BLACK SABBATH – Arrow’s GIRL is yet another impressive string to the companies bow. The quality of the film’s presentation is top-end: Though not quite free from the odd scratch and occasional frame movement, by and large the 2K HD master lovingly struck from the film’s fine grain interpositive – and, partially, internegative – is incredibly pleasing on the eye.
As well as porting over the three key special features from Anchor Bay’s solid 2007 boxset – Bava biographer Tim Lucas’ scholary commentary; a nice nine minute interview with co-star John Saxon; and Italian horror expert Alan Jones’ breezy introduction – Arrow also throw the snappy ‘All About the Girl’ featurette into the supplementary mix; a twenty minute or so appreciation of the film featuring Jones, and filmmakers Richard Stanley (robo-killer thriller HARDWARE) and Luigi Cozzi (goofy Video Nasty CONTAMINATION). Better still, however, is their inclusion of the equally nicely mastered alternative American cut of the film, retitled EVIL EYE by distributor AIP. Despite being just as entertaining, EVIL EYE is, of course, no match for Bava’s intended Italian language version; even if the director himself was unsatisfied with the end result.
THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH is a fluffy murder mystery; a Hitch-cocktail of suspense, thrills and gallows humour as a young tourist (Letícia Román) finds herself at the centre of a decade old set of serial killings. And though, as Bava once exclaimed, it’s wholly preposterous, as a technical masterclass it’s unbeatable; a sumptuously shot pulse-pounder, with Bava’s prowling camera and innovative accent on slick, macabre and violent imagery laying the groundwork for the myriad of gialli that would follow – a genre Bava himself would refine the next year with BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, and later re-work with slasher progenitor A BAY OF BLOOD.
With THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH being widely acknowledged as the first giallo, as author Troy Howarth suggests in his insightful liner notes for Odeon’s THE WHIP & THE BODY, WHIP too could belong to that genre with its overt luridness and mystery-themed narrative. Regardless, Odeon finally gives the film the love it deserves following years of showing up on TV in a washed out, soulless full screen print. The HD clarity is nothing short of astounding, perfect for what is, again, one of Bava’s most beautifully lensed films; from the familiar Anzio-based coastal sequences, to the lush, shadowy textures of the castle interior; dripping with atmosphere and melodrama.
Often – incorrectly – criticized for its supposed languid pacing, really it is here where Bava truly excels, delivering a slow-burning escalation of terror as the ghost of a sadistic nobleman (the immortal Christopher Lee) terrorises his family following his death. With cast and crew all credited with English pseudonyms, the film betrays producer-led aspirations of fitting alongside the gothic vogue of Hammer and the Corman-Poe cycle; Bava, however, may well have surpassed them all.
Just as he did on Arrow’s GIRL, Tim Lucas is present for Odeon’s talk-track duties, the Video Watchdog editor having re-recorded his commentary from VCI’s fourteen year old region 0 NTSC disc in the wake of his knowledge expanding friendship with the film’s lead, Daliah Lavi. It’s another typically comprehensive and rewarding listen. Elsewhere, Odeon have included an engaging and detailed twenty-two minute overview of the film by film historian Jonathan Rigby, and a leisurely forty-five minute conversation with Lee, taken from the the ‘British Legends of Stage & Screen’ series. It may not be quite as lavish as Arrow’s GIRL, but Odeon’s WHIP is every bit as vital for students of spaghetti scares and connoisseurs of charismatic classic horror.
Snap ’em up.

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH DELIRIUM REVIEW 8/10
THE WHIP & THE BODY DELIRIUM REVIEW 8/10

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