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Danger: Diabolik DVD Review

Danger: Diabolik

November 6, 2005

Director: Mario Bava,
Starring: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi, Claudio Gora, Mario Donen, Renzo Palmer, Caterina Boratto, Lucia Modugno, Annie Gorassini, Carlo Croccolo, Lidia Biondi, Andrea Bosic, ,

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DVD Review

Mario Bava was known predominantly for making classic horror films like Black Sabbath (1963) but he also essayed several other genres in his long, illustrious career: sword and sandal epics, science fiction and, with Danger: Diabolik (1968), a comic book heist thriller.

Notorious master thief Diabolik (Law) steals a currency shipment right out from under the noses of over-confident government officials with an evil laugh reminiscent of The Shadow. He hooks up with his girlfriend (Mell) and they head back to his vast, underground complex that resembles a crazy mix of the Batcave and Hugo Drax’s lair in Moonraker (1979). To celebrate his $10 million cash robbery, Diabolik and his girlfriend wake up in a huge, circular bed buried in the money and make love, rubbing it between their naked bodies.

The authorities are a pompous and inept lot which doesn’t make them too sympathetic and has you rooting for Diabolik instead. To add insult to injury, Diabolik and his girlfriend sneak into the police press conference and release laughing gas so that the cops and the press end up laughing hysterically–looking even more ridiculous. Diabolik proceeds to go on a crime spree and crosses paths with crime lord Valmont (played by Adolfo Celi who was the baddie in Thunderball). In typical bad guy fashion, he shoots and kills those who don’t go along with his plans. He even drops one hapless flunky out his plane via a trap door!

In the first 15 minutes there is more visual imagination at work than most films of its ilk made today. Bava uses close-ups for establishing shots (a la Sergio Leone), unusual perspective shots and snap zooms. The veteran filmmaker elevates the standard premise that was so in vogue in the ‘60s with impressive sets, cutting edge fashion (for its time), cool cars, hot babes, high-tech gadgets and a hep, swinging ‘60s Euro-lounge soundtrack mixed with jazzy spy music by Ennio Morricone. Bava understood that film was predominantly a visual medium and he tells the story with a minimal use of dialogue (Diabolik rarely speaks), instead propelling the narrative largely through eye-catching imagery.

Danger: Diabolik seems refreshingly inventive today and has aged surprisingly well despite the ‘60s fashion and décor. You have to admire a film that has the balls to have an anti-hero as its protagonist who has no problem killing cops that get in his way, stealing from a wealthy elderly couple and living a decadent lifestyle. Bava’s film fulfills all of the requirements of its genre—exciting car chases, sword fights and so on—and does so with a style and panache that is missing from today’s movies.

Special Features:

There is an audio commentary by actor John Phillip Law and Bava biographer Tim Lucas who points out which actors are playing what characters and some of the other films that they did. He dispels the myth that Bava was riffing on the Adam West Batman TV show but in fact was influenced by the French Fantomas movies. Law recounts some of his experiences making the movie (including working with his lovely co-star Marisa Mell) with a great, deep resonating voice reminiscent of Robert Evans. This is a very informative track with Lucas providing the bulk of the factoids and Law the anecdotes.

“Danger: Diabolik: From Fumetti to Film” is a 20 minute featurette that traces the film’s origins from its long-running Italian comic book (or Fumetti). Legendary artist Stephen Bissette (Saga of the Swamp Thing) and Beastie Boy Adam Yauch sing the praises of Bava’s film. Bissette, in particular, argues rather eloquently that the film isn’t a parody of itself and illustrates its craftsmanship by pointing out stylish camera angles and the clever use of music. John Phillip Law talks about how he prepared for the role and even does Diabolik’s famous laugh. This is an excellent look at the film and Bava’s skill as a filmmaker.

Also included is the Beastie Boys’ music video for “Body Movin’” which samples heavily from Diabolik only to substitute the close-ups with members of the band playing the certain roles. This is a funny, clever video that is the hallmark of the Beasties. Yauch provides an optional commentary which repeats most of what he said in the featurette.

Finally, there is a teaser and theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 91%

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