Mario Bava is probably best known for highly stylised horror offerings like Black Sabbath and Black Sunday, but the director, like most of his Italian contemporaries, worked in virtually every genre from comedy to sci-fi to western, and, in the case of 1968’s Diabolik, even dabbled in a little bit of spy-movie satire.
Based on the Italian comic series created by Angela and Luciana Giussani, Diabolik (Law) is a somewhat fey master criminal whose ginchy gadgets, groovy getaways and gorgeous gal pal Eva (Mell) has him treading the turf somewhere between a monogamous James Bond and a Mod Pink Panther. Clad in a skintight body-suit and balaclava mask, the master thief slinks about to a jazzy and fantastic Ennio Morricone score, eluding the hapless investigators and rival gangs that want to bring him down.
Bava takes a bit of creative license here with the more serious-natured comic book, infusing it with a pop art sensibility and a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours. The film features some of the coolest set pieces of its time, as well as Bava’s trademark use of miniatures and mirrors to create visually impressive effects work on the cheap. Take one look at Diabolik’s cavernous underground lair and you’ll see what I mean.
I can’t say much about Diabolik as a film simply because there isn’t much to say! This movie is more about look and feel rather than content. It’s campy, filled with wooden performances, and doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but it’s also insanely entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny, and an absolute joy to behold, especially in its new DVD presentation.
Paramount deserves some major fan kudos for this release, as it would have been quite easy for them to simply slap a full-screen transfer of this flick onto a DVD and sell it as a bargain title. However, they realise how influential and important this film is to a lot of us, and have given it the deluxe treatment, with a gorgeous widescreen transfer, a commentary by John Phillip Law and Bava Historian Tim Lucas, a featurettes called Diabolik: From Fumetitto to Film, and two original trailers. There’s also a strange bonus in the inclusion of the Beastie Boys “Body Movin’” video, which pays homage to the film.
Diabolik is a love it/hate it affair. Personally, I think it’s a brilliant satire, and a boatload of fun to watch, but I will admit that it isn’t for everyone. Many people I know have only seen the film as the feature in the final episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I can see how the goofy Diabolik would fit right in as it is a movie that is primed for just such a thing. I invite them to give this fun film another look, presented in the way it was meant to be seen.