Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: DANGER: DIABOLIK

Danger: Diabolik is one of my all-time favorite films in any genre.

Mario Bava, the accomplished cinematographer, special effects artist and director best known for such stylish Euro-horror classics as Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, Planet Of The Vampires and Blood And Black Lace was hand-chosen by legendary movie mogul Dino DeLaurentis to direct this 1968 adaptation of the popular Italian fumetti (comic book), Diabolik. Budgeted at a generous three million dollars, the frugal maestro Bava – using economical camera tricks and his legendary ingenuity – ended up spending only $400,000 of his budget (much to DeLaurentis' delight). Yet, he still created one of the most visually stunning films in the entire genre.

The film follows the episodic escapades of master thief and super villain Diabolik (John Phillip Law, Barbarella, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) as he carries out a series of audacious heists, constantly making the police and civil authorities look like incompetent buffoons. At one point, the law even covertly recruits a ruthless gangster (Adolfo Celi, Thunderball) to kidnap Diabolik's girlfriend, Eva Kant (the gorgeous Marisa Mell), figuring to pit the two criminals against each other. But Diabolik – clad in a striking all-black costume – is more than a match for the mafioso.

Diabolik isn't a super hero by any definition, nor is he a Robin Hood-styled "thief with a heart of gold." In the commentary, star Law admits bluntly that his character's "basically a terrorist." He's a refreshingly genuine antihero, out for all he can get, and innocent bystanders be damned. If you're looking for a role model, look elsewhere. Personally, I find these sorts of characters fascinating, and am always interested in how the creators of such characters manage to manipulate their audiences into rooting for such despicable people. In Diabolik's case, it's pure style – he's just so much more audacious, fearless and admirable than the cops and other crooks around him.

Beautifully shot, and awash in bright primary colors, Danger: Diabolik is among one of the "truest" comic book adaptations ever filmed. Not only does Bava nail the tone and character of the original comics, but he successfully translates comic book storytelling from one medium to another, with brilliant results.

Paramount Pictures released the film on DVD a few years ago, presenting the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, with a fine, startlingly sharp anamorphic transfer. The Dolby Digital mono sound is clear and free of hiss, but one wishes they'd been able to do a new sound mix, as the mono doesn't do justice to Ennio Morricone's wonderful, lounge-y score.

Among the bonus features is an informative documentary "From Fumetti to Film," which details the origins of the movie and examines it from the perspective of Sixties psychedelic filmmaking and as a comic book adaptation. The documentary includes interviews with star Law, comic book creator Stephen Bissette, filmmaker Roman Coppola, and Diabolik fan Adam Yauch of The Beastie Boys. The disc also includes The Beastie Boys music video, "Body Movin'," which incorporates footage from the movie, two trailers and a commentary track by Law and Bava expert Tim Lucas, editor of the excellent Video Watchdog magazine.

The commentary is one of the best I've heard in a long while, with Law obviously very fond of the movie and the character and full of reminisces. Lucas is a fount of knowledge on Bava and the production of the film, and prompts Law whenever necessary to keep the trivia and gossip (Law cops to a having a hot and steamy affair with his co-star Mell during filming) flowing. The track is never boring, and is fascinating to listen to.

If you've never seen the movie, it demands a Netflix rental; better yet, try and track down a copy of the DVD. It's technically out of print, but can still be found with a little diligence.

2 comments:

Tanner said...

Great review of a great movie that I dearly love as well! I'm glad that more and more Diabolik fans have come out of the woodwork in the last decade to wrest it back from MST3K, who unfairly co-opted it for their final film. I'm a fan of that show, but it's just plain irresponsible to use a movie that genuinely belongs in the ranks of universally acknowledged classics like The Godfather and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and other things no one would ever dare making fun of! So vive la Diabolik revolucion!

By the way, I'm very curious to learn where you managed to find the original comics in English! (Or do you read Italian?) Can you please share? I've only ever seen those sub-par 90s ones in English. (Six of them, I think.) Thanks!

Christopher Mills said...

I don't actually have any Diabolik comics. I did see a few of the Italian ones years ago, when I was a student at the Joe Kubert School. I can't read Italian, but they weren't difficult to follow.

I would love to have some, though, even sub-par English ones. :)

Did you know there's a new DIABOLIK video game out there?

BTW - did you get the sketch I sent you a couple days ago?