Lured by the success of Batman's and Fantomas's film versions – classic comic strip and criminal fiction heroes – Dino de Laurentiis decided to spin two projects in late 1967. One of these creations eventually became Roger Vadim's "Barbarella" while the other one – cashing on a great popularity of Italian fumetto about supervillain Diabolik – was assigned to Mario Bava and dubbed simply "Danger: Diabolik". Although it was the most expensive movie Bava ever directed, flashing with stylish sets or classy designer costumes and it made a huge blast in Europe, it didn't manage to break through in United States, where after limited theatrical release it went down to circulating as a 16 mm print. But with time it gained a large following, today being considered one of the best comic book adaptations ever made linking pulp frivolousness with a sense of underground sensitivity, very appealing to the counterculture of the late 60's.
As the movie was based on an established comic strip series, it had a pile of volumes to exploit and in fact Bava just cut'n'pasted Diabolik's most interesting adventures rewriting them into a tight script. Known by his gothic horror, fantasy & giallo versatility, he was a perfect match for a movie, which demanded weird imagination, tension building and certain equivocality from a director. As an effect Bava came up with a humorous, luscious vision bridging pop cultural light weight with genre parody and anti-establishment winks towards political revolutionaries of the psychedelic era. In the end his figure of Diabolik (acted by John Phillip Law) is an ambiguous one, coming down as a sort of witty, technology-savvy superthief, who robs from filthy rich, but not for the profit... for pure fun and satisfaction exclusively. Although he likes to surround himself with top of the line decor and drives pricey Jaguar, he wouldn't have a sense of purpose without his gorgeous girlfriend Eva, who's more important than all the gold and jewels of this world.
He's introduced while nicking a car carrying $10 mln, smoking the escort out and lifting it with a crane. But as he comes home to his lady luck Eva (played by beautiful Marisa Mell), he simply tosses the money on a bed and they're promptly drowning in the heat of a love act using it as a spectacular fetish. But the government will soon have enough and will grant chief of police new prerogatives to get Diabolik by any means. Importantly, there is another bad guy in this story, Valmont – boss of the powerful syndicate, whose operations are being busted one by one in order to force him into a deal. He'll be the criminal mind to deliver Diabolik. Knowing his ways far better than police, he's gonna pick the right bait to catch him. Although this plan initially pans out, Diabolik hides more aces and throws them on a table eventually, slipping away from the hands of law being officially dead... and blowing up all tax and financial centres afterwards in an act of absurd revenge. Facing all these futile efforts the prime minister becomes edgy and orders another desperate trap set. Will Diabolik finally slip?
This fast-paced caper by Mario Bava is much different from his other genre works, mostly as he had much bigger budget at his disposal and didn't hesitate to spend it on lurid sets, which perfectly mirror the spirit of the epoch – sci-fi ideas of the late 60's meet current Italian interior design. Then there are Marisa Mell's designer clothes, who's dripping with sex herself as always (one of the reasons to see this movie). Yes, it does have a dash of exploitation, but Bava's eye is still there with his famous close-ups (mimicked at large by later giallo and horror artists), long, full frame shots, giving viewer a sense of depth or his dynamic car chase sequences, definitely ahead of it's time. It's all nicely combined by a streamline action, exactly like in comic books – one scene goes after another without any psychological sit-downs as development of the characters is pretty unnecessary here – they are as we see them. Over the top acting and psychedelic musings like zapping press conference with laughing gas or busting Valmont's pad filled with joint puffing hippies add to a general sense of playful romp, which didn't lose anything with time. On the top you get ravishing Ennio Morricone's soundtrack, so don't hesitate and just go for it!