[box cover]

Danger: Diabolik

The career of Mario Bava is long, strange, and fascinating. His father was a cinematographer, and Bava began his career following in his father's line, but everything changed for him in 1956. It was then — while working on Ricardo Freda's I Vampiri — that Bava took the directorial reigns after Freda walked off the picture. Even more impressive is that, with this hodgepodge effort, the beginnings of Bava's voice can be found. He finished two other abandoned efforts before finally getting to direct his first complete film in 1960, La Maschera del Demonio (best known stateside as Black Sunday). Demonio was a showcase for the director's talent at atmosphere and gothic horror, and it's since become a celebrated cult classic. It's also seminal in Italian film history: Much of the horror and giallo (Italian for yellow, the color of pulp magazine pages) that followed drew inspiration from it. Mario Bava is a prominent cult favorite, and easily his most accessible effort is the 1968 title Danger: Diabolik, an adaptation of the Italian comic book (or furnetti) "Diabolik" by Angela and Luciana Giussani. Made in the pop-art style of the time, it's one of the most gleefully fun graphic-novel films ever made. John Phillip Law stars as Diabolik, the most dangerous criminal the world has ever seen. In the opening sequence, the cops set up a decoy to deliver money, hoping it will fool the ace criminal — but Diabolik recognizes their double cross and hits the right vehicle. It seems the main reason Diabolik steals is to please his woman, Eva (Marissa Mell), and it helps him afford his secret groovy underground lair, which features a rotating bed. On Diabolik's case is Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli), who asks for tougher sentences on criminals and uses his power to forcibly reduce the work of other criminals. But the crimelords recognize that this tactic has been enacted to catch Diabolik, so they — led by Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) — decide they too must track down the elusive Diabolik. This comes to pass as Eva and Diabolik plan to steal emeralds from a castle, which involves Diabolik using suction cups to climb the outside walls. Through her doctor Valmont and his gang are able to get their hands on Eva, but even their plans to set up Diabolik are no match for the master thief's cunning. And when the heat is turned up higher, Diabolik returns fire by destroying the tax records — forcing the government to ask the public to pay what they think they owe.

*          *          *

Diabolik is the ultimate comic book anti-hero, a Robin Hood who steals only from the rich, but only gives to himself and his lady. He's the James Bond of bad guys, always in the company of a gorgeous woman while one step ahead of his adversaries. In that way, Danger: Diabolik is more like a serial with its constant stake-raising scenes that beg "How's Diabolik going to get out of this?" However, what's most striking about the film is Mario Bava's compositions: A master of color, his palette literally explodes on the screen with the beauty of a lavish Technicolor production (similar to his work on 1965's Planet of the Vampires). With this film, he's able to convey the right comic-book tone, and when applicable he uses the techniques he learned from his work in horror (there is a striking moment when Diabolik is literally resurrected and reaches out with one hand to stop a doctor from slicing into him). But perhaps the main element that has made this film a cult favorite is the score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. From the opening credit sequence number "Deep Down" (guaranteed to be caught in your head for days after) to the guitar riffs that make the chase scenes seem actually rollicking, Morricone's work has one ear on rock-and-roll, enhancing the movie the way his music did for Sergio Leone's westerns. The soundtrack was never officially released, but it's nonetheless become a cult favorite on its own accord. Paramount presents Danger: Diabolik in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. For a film that lays on so much color, it's good to see Diabolik in a restored and luminous print. Originally slated for release on DVD in 2004, it was delayed until 2005 for unknown reasons — although it appears the title was designated in the interim to be a special edition. The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas and star John Phillip Law, both of whom provide a wealth of anecdotes. Also included is the featurette "Danger: Diabolik: From Furnetti to Film" (20 min.) with comments from comic-book artist Stephen Bissette, producer Dino De Laurentis, composer Ennio Morricone, John Phillip Law, director Roman Coppola (whose 2001 film CQ aped much from Diabolik), and The Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch, who directed the music video "Body Movin'," designed as an homage to Diabolik. The music video is also on board and comes with optional commentary by Yauch, though he doesn't seem to work up much enthusiasm for the feature film. Also included are two trailers. Keep-case.

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