This is undeniable-proof that Mario Bava was one of the best horror-directors of all-time. The maestro's use of color and unnatural-lighting is stellar, and unique. There are few films that convey desire so-deeply, so-yearningly, but also depict repulsion just-as-well; and aren't the two inextricably-entwined in horror? It is perhaps the best Gothic-horror film of the 1960s, bar-none, and that includes some of Hammer's finest. In-fact, you can see that in Bava's, Hammer's and Roger Corman's 'Gothic' films, there is a dialog going-on. They copied-each other, but few would be so-daring as Bava, as this is the best S&M horror-film, and the sexiest too. Dahlia Lavi couldn't be more desirable in this, and the S&M depictions are pretty racy, even the standards of 2006. For this reason, it was radically-cut in most regions-of-distribution (except-Germany!). 'Black Sunday/Mask of Satan' (1960) may have been the 'Citizen Kane' of horror, but this is Bava's 'Tales of Hoffmann' (1951), and all these films should be seen by serious horror-fans. Corman, AIP and Hammer had blood, brains, bulging-boobs and cleavage, but not this!
It is probably the most-underrated film I have ever seen. A film like The Whip and the Body has to be watched-repeatedly to truly-appreciate, and it gives-up secrets with each-viewing. What has always been a shoddy dubbing-job has marred this film's reputation and relegated it to-the-margins of the horror-genre. The Whip and the Body is the essence of what truly makes-up horror, especially Gothic-horror, and it is psycho-sexual-tension. If you cannot appreciate such literary-concerns, or the eternal-issues involving the human-condition, you aren't going to enjoy it, because it is a pretty literary-film. It is poetic, and strongly-erotic. It is also, decidedly-not 'PC', but who cares anymore about that? Art never is, nor should it be, 'acceptable.' It simply is.
Outside-of Hitchcock, psychological-horror doesn't get much-better than this masterpiece. It is a ghost-story, and so-much-more. It is a study of sexual-obsession, and the demons that haunt all relationships. Who has not been haunted by a lover from one's past? If you haven't, you are missing-something important in the human-condition, so go out and find it. The archetype of the 'demon-lover' is in full-bloom in this masterpiece, and it is titillating and emotionally-powerful for it. It should also be said the film has a few-similarities to Ricardo Freda's classic, 'The Ghost' (1963), which is likely due to the era it was made-in, and the fact that Bava was frequently Freda's assistant-director. Guilt plays-its-part in the films of both directors, usually manifesting as an apparition. Catholic-guilt? This is likely, but neither Bava or Freda can be typed so-easily, they were non-conformists in their stylizations, with Bava even showing a connection with Slavic-literature in the works of Gogol and Tolstoy. He borrowed from a lot of literary-sources, including Lovecraft, making it into something that was his own. The director was also known for his belief in Italian folk-superstitions, and he drew from Italy's folklore, and Roman mythology as well.
As far as I can tell, much of the 'color-coding' in this film for given-characters was relatively-new when Bava attempted-it. Powell & Pressberg's 'Tales of Hoffman' is the closest I can recall with this style conveying horror so effectively. Lee's-character (Kurt Menliff) is portrayed in the cobalt-hues of blue ever to grace a Technicolor-film, suggesting the character spectral-nature. Other times, Lee is lit with a green-light on his face, like Osiris. I'd say some aspects of the film resemble the myth of the resurrection of Osiris by Isis (through sexuality). Lee is the dying-god, Nevenka his Astarte or Isis. Scenes of passion with Dahlia Lavi are decidedly red-in-hue, while when the apparition of 'Kurt' gives us scenes that are green or blue. One scene has Lavi walking-down a hallway while each side of her face keeps changing-colors as her emotions change. The whole approach is a kind of expressionism of color, the hues conveying the internal-states of the characters. The Technicolor-process made colors so deep!
This is film-as-artifice, and we should never forget this while viewing the works of a director like Bava, he reveled in this artificiality. This helped him emphasize the thematic visually, rather than through dialog and a linear-narrative. Yes, it's supposed-to look 'fake', it's a film-reality, like in a Tarantino-film. This movie has suffered-enough! The story-line isn't very difficult to follow, it's just the poor-dubbing by the Italian production-company. When a film is this low-budget (for 1963), it's usually post-production that suffers, and it does here. The owners of this property should record Mr. Lee's dialog for this film-- he has offered, after-all, so why-not? It's insane to think the producers of a film with Christopher Lee would not see-fit to use his actual-voice, because he is an actor who was known for it (and still is).