Review Date: July 6, 2005
Released by: Paramount
Release date: 6/14/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Mario Bava will always be remembered as one of cinema’s greatest pioneers of the horror genre. His credits include the first Italian horror film following the fall of Mussolini, I Vampiri
, the first giallo film, Blood and Black Lace
, and arguably the biggest influence for Friday the 13th
and most of the slasher genre, Twitch of the Death Nerve
. Directors who work in horror their whole lives have not attained such notoriety, and yet Bava was able to make quite a name for himself in the action and fantasy genres as well. He’s done everything from Hercules to westerns, but as of late his most well known non-horror effort has been the Dino De Laurentiis comic book adaptation, Danger: Diabolik
. After finding itself on and off Paramount’s release slate, things did not look good for Bava and the man in black on DVD, but the film finally came this June, and with extras, no less! Is it diabolical fun, or dangerously dull?
Meet Diabolik. He’s rich, he’s handsome, he’s got a lovely lady and a panache for stealing even the most guarded of possessions. He is a thief, although he does it not for personal gain, but for a sense of excitement. He starts the film off by thwarting the police with distracting gasses while he makes away with a bundle of cash, but what does he do with it? He uses the cash as some sort of sexual stimulant, draping it all around the room and the bed as he rolls around with his lady, Eva (Marisa Mell
). He has no real aim or ambition, his goal seems merely to foil the government.
Diabolik’s (John Phillip Law
) antics predictably get the police force in a lot of trouble, particularly Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli
). The police would do anything to catch him, but since he always works in the disguise of a black or white body suit, finding him is near impossible. The police therefore try desperate measures, as they bribe legendary mob man Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi
) to help track down Diabolik. If Valmont fails, he will be put in prison, but if he succeeds he’ll get off on good behavior. So naturally, everyone has it out for Diabolik, determined to quelch his thirst for crime and jokery, but he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve.
Sick of the empty power of money, Diabolik decides on a whim to destroy all buildings that control the country currency. As a result, that sends the government into a frenzy, and in order to avoid any future mishap, melt down the remainder of their gold bars into one massive six ton golden Toblerone. The challenge of stealing a seemingly unmovable object of course fascinates Diabolik, but this time the police are ready. Can Diabolik use his cunning to outsmart Valmont and the entire police force, or will his dangerous aspirations get the best of him?
is the kind of clichéd, tacky and exaggerated film that would be perfect fodder for Austin Powers
, and indeed has already been featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater. Diabolik speaks only in one liners, the inspector gnaws his teeth every time Diabolik gets in trouble, Eva shows off her body at every point possible, and Diabolik always comes out unscathed. The plot proceeds exactly as one would expect, taking just as much from the James Bond formula as it does from its comic of inspiration. From the typical Bond Girl to the incessant gadgetry, one gets the idea that the story could have easily been substituted for a Bond film with a few tiny changes.
The story is all quite routine, but any fan of Bava knows that story is as important to Bava as the sun is to a bat. The less plot for Bava the better, because above all else, Bava is a man of style. More even than any of his contemporaries like Argento, Bava’s films bare the undeniable stamp of its maker. Bava was such a total genius of cinematography, direction and set design, often wearing all those hats during his films, that he could make any scene resonate with a visual energy and wonderment. Most of his horror films are characterized by his stylish use of color, and indeed there are some wonderful uses here, from multicolored gases overcoming the frame, to the swirling paint transitions. But Danger: Diabolik
takes style a step further with all of Bava’s groundbreaking matte paintings and imaginative set pieces. Diabolik’s lair comes to life with a combination of otherworldly design coupled with bursts of color, making it infinitely more interesting than the leaden Batman catacombs.
Bava’s style is so paramount to his films, from his wild zooms, crazy colors and inventive trickery, that it often takes precedent over all other things. Genre, story, performances, everything all seems redundant to Bava, since his personal stamp is so obvious and so entrancing that the difference from his gialli and his action films seem hardly noticeable at all. His films are like one giant magic show, it doesn’t matter what he is doing, the only thing that resonates is the style of the magician’s execution. So what ultimately prevails in Danger: Diabolik
is not the hammy screenplay or the flat acting, but Bava’s ability to use the canvas of film to paint a world of visual intrigue.
Even the most rudimentary bit of dialogue comes to life in a Bava film, where the layers of framing, color and composition all combine for one enchanting visual experience. Even the most simple of scenes, where Valmont dictates commands to his henchmen, becomes interesting in the shooting. Instead of using your typical shot-reverse-shot scene structure, Bava has the nervous henchmen reflected out of Valmont’s black sunglasses, using style to show the henchman’s inadequacy compared to Valmont’s dominance of the frame. Bava works this style throughout, and always one to experiment, his visual style is one that lends perfectly to the truncated and stylized presentation of comic books. Years before Ang Lee got the comic style right with Hulk
, or even a few years before the experimental brilliance of Baba Yaga
, Bava was demonstrating just how comics should be done.
Whether he is making a comic book adaptation, a horror or a western, Mario Bava has proven that he can overcome even genre with his unique and everprominent directorial style. In watching films like Starman
or Memoirs of an Invisible Man
, there may always be some undercurrents that indicate they are John Carpenter films, but the subject and feel is undeniably quite different than his other work. Bava, on the other hand, infuses all his films with his playful ability to both shock and riddle audiences with excess, style and magic. Comedy can erupt out of the climax of the bloody proto-slasher Twitch of the Death Nerve
, just as horror can pop into the breezy Diabolik
when Valmont unleashes a flurry of bullets upon a victim. No genre can weather the stamp of Bava’s wild style; Bava is a true original and he proves that once again with the enjoyable Danger: Diabolik
Although many horror fans bemoan the lack of special features on Paramount’s horror product, few ever complain of their transfers. They have arguably been the most consistently good studio company in terms of visuals for some years now, and their transfer for Danger: Diabolik
is yet another fine addition to their body of work. It must be said first though, that Bava worked with a number of optical shots to execute all his visual trickery, particularly in a number of television mattes or artificial zooms. As a result, these scenes are captured at a lower resolution and also prone to excess grain and blemishes. The titular picture in the intro paragraph is a good example of this, and its quality is unavoidable and should not be held against the rest of the film. The rest of this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks great, incredibly sharp and quite vivid. Considering Bava’s penchant for color, it is good to see that Paramount preserved the accuracy of all the prominent reds, blues and yellows. Given its age there is still some noticeable grain, and small white blemishes pop up regularly, but it isn’t really that distracting. Considering how bad a number of Bava’s films look on DVD, an imperfect transfer like this looks comparatively excellent. By no means reference quality, but it is unlikely the film will ever look better on DVD.
When you’ve got a score by Ennio Morricone underscoring everything, it is tough for any track to sound bad. While this is only an English mono track, Morricone’s score shines, and the dialogue sounds much clearer than it has any right to.
Paramount, the company who can’t even include trailers on most of their newer catalogue titles, has unleashed a full fledged special edition for Danger: Diabolik
, and it might well be the most pleasant surprise of the year. Considering the obscurity of the film compared to the rest of Paramount’s product, the choice to include extras on this release is curious, but the selection here is great. First up is a commentary that combines on-set experience with film geek research, as actor John Phillip Law and Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas chat about the film. Initially it starts a little dry, as Lucas seems to be talking above Law with all his geeky facts and incessant name dropping. Law seems lost initially, and doesn’t talk much, but eventually the two warm up and combine for an enjoyable track. Law remembers a fair bit, and even if he is far from the intellectual that Lucas is, he is good to listen to, especially when he talks about his past relationship with Marisa Mell. Lucas makes sure the commentary keeps on track and on pace, and the whole thing works nicely.
Even better is a twenty minute documentary, “Danger: Diabolik
– From Fumetti to Film”, which briefly compares the comic to the book, but more importantly delves into Bava and the film’s lasting influence. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and Francis’ son Roman Coppola are on board to explain how Diabolik
shaped their work, with visual comparisons with Coppola’s CQ and Yauch’s “Body Movin’” music video used for support. The real meat comes from the comic writer behind Constantine, Stephen Bissette, who clearly has a deep and strong understanding of the film and Bava in general. He points out in an insightful manner why this is different (and better) than all other comic adaptations of its time, and explains using visuals just why Bava is so celebrated. He really sums up Bava perfectly, and provides us with a perfect lens for understanding the film. Ennio Morricone, Dino de Laurentiis and John Phillip Law all pop up as well, but they are all not nearly as interesting as the outsiders talking about why this film retains a lasting pop-culture impact. It’s a great doc.
Paramount also licensed the inclusion of the Beastie Boys’ video, “Body Movin’” which cleverly integrates footage from Diabolik
in with the three Boys playing the roles in close-up. The video is quite well done, and even features a surprisingly gory sequence that bests anything in the actual film. Adam Yauch provides an optional commentary, but doesn’t really have anything all that interesting to say, and often reverts to discussing what is happening on screen. Still, a welcome extra that shows just how far Bava’s influence has extended into sects of the mainstream. The disc is rounded off with teaser and theatrical trailers. Save them for after the film.
That’s quite the bevy of extras for a little forgotten non-horror film by Mario Bava, especially considering the DVD was at one point cancelled indefinitely, following rumors that its terrorist subject matter may not be suitable in today’s climate. But it got released, and Paramount is all the better for it, because this a rare present to genre fans who have had to withstand their many barebones DVD releases in the past.
Bava is a man with such an indelible and intriguing style that he can elevate even the slightest of films into something special. Danger: Diabolik
is fairly routine in terms of plot, but Bava injects it with some of his best technical effects and most elaborate set design, amounting for an undeniably enjoyable experience. The film looks and sounds very good considering its age, but the special features are the real standout. Yes, Paramount has finally done good by giving genre fans a special edition to appreciate. Considering the list price is only a cheap $14.99, this is a must have for Bava fans, and a great jumping off point for all those wanting to get a feel of what Mario Bava is all about. There’s no danger in picking up this fun-fest.
Movie - B
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 40 minutes
- Rated PG-13
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- English subtitles
- Commentary with actor John Phillip Law and Bava biographer, Tim Lucas
- "Danger: Diabolik - From Fumetti to Film" featurette
- "Body Movin'" music video with optional commentary with Beastie Boy Adam Yauch
- Teaser trailer
- Theatrical trailer