Ever wondered about those mystery ingredients that give a film cult status? Film expert Dr Leon Hunt examines the fanatic following behind pop-art classic, Danger: Diabolik.
Masked master-thief, Diabolik is a stylish super-criminal who lives in an underground hideout with sexy blonde sidekick, Eva Kant.
Adapted from a vintage comic that was colossal in Italy for 55 years, the film’s 1968 release flopped. But in the years since, its reputation soared along with that of its director, Mario Bava. It went phenomenal and later inspired the Beastie Boys' music video for Body Movin’.
When a film hits cult status, it is as much about how viewers react as it is about its plot and characters, said Dr Hunt.
“Cult films have a peculiar status because they are part of an alternative film culture, not a mainstream.”
Out now, Dr Hunt’s new book, Danger: Diabolik, is the latest in a series of ‘cultographies’ from Columbia University Press which features titles about Quadrophenia, Donnie Darko and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Danger: Diabolik delves into the film’s status as a comic-book movie, plus its links to the original comic and to its sister film, Barbarella. It traces its production and box-office reception in Italy, France, the US and the UK, and its cult afterlife as both a classic and a campy ‘bad’ film.
“Like a lot of cult films, it’s enjoyed in different ways,” said Dr Hunt. “It’s a film that is very much of its time. Like a comic, it’s very bold and colourful. But it’s also tongue-in-cheek. It probably now seems a bit cheesy and old-fashioned, but that’s one of the things fans love about it – it was sent up on the TV show Mystery Science Theatre 3000. But it’s probably most celebrated for Bava’s great visual style and mastery of special effects, making a low budget look considerably bigger.
“There’s a famous love scene where Eva and Diabolik are in his den on a revolving bed covered in stacks of money. It has a wonderful 60s pop-art style to it.”
Clad in a black cowl and skin-tight costume, Diabolik drives a black E-type Jag. Surrounding himself with Bond-style gadgets worth millions, he specialises in grandstand multi-million-dollar burglaries involving priceless emeralds and the national gold supply. But the law is hot on his trail.
When the police put out a million-dollar reward to catch, him, Diabolik reacts by blowing up the tax offices. Without tax revenues, the country has to sell gold to buy currency. To make it difficult to steal, 20 tons of gold is melted into a solid block and loaded on a train. But that gets bombed by Diabolik and Eva. The police track the gold to Diabolik’s lair where he’s melting the gold, and when they start shooting, the molten gold gets out of control and covers the entire cavern. Diabolik is believed dead.
“There’s a final scene where Diabolik shoots a crafty wink at the audience,” says Dr Hunt. “He’s covered in gold, protected only by a special suit, but we know that somehow he’ll escape.”
Danger: Diabolik, by Leon Hunt (ISBN 978-0231182812), is published by Columbia University Press and is available from Amazon.
Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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