Evil Spirits and Bad Role Models in MALABIMBA: THE MALICIOUS WHORE

7
Jul

When faced with a title like Malabimba: the Malicious Whore, it’s tempting to dismiss the film as another pointless exercise in 1970s Eurosleaze. But that would be a mistake.  Director Andrea Bianchi and screenwriter Piero Regnoli are after something a little more ambitious here, something that merits a closer look.

Bimba Karoli (Katell Laennec) is a young girl on the precipice between childhood and maturity. The only child of the Count Andrea Karoli (Enzo Fisichella), she has spent her entire life cloistered in the family castle, educated by novice nun Sister Sofia (Mariangela Giordano). Also living in the villa are her grandmother (Pupita Lea), her wealthy, paraplegic Uncle Adolfo (Giuseppe Marrocco), and his wife Nais (Patrizia Webley).

These are not the best role models for a girl coming of age. Beset by money troubles, Andrea is encouraged by his mother to seduce Nais, which would secure his share of the patrimony in the family after Adolfo’s death. After years of being labeled a golddigger and a whore by her in-laws, Nais enjoys lording her power over them, even inviting her lover Giorgio (Giancarlo Del Duca) to live in the castle. But Andrea is an attractive man, and Nais doesn’t want to quit the aristocracy just yet.

Malabimba_UNRATED_KeyartSeance

Things go bad when Andrea orders a séance in the castle, hoping to contact his wife Daniella in the beyond. Instead they call up Lucrezia Karoli, an ancestor infamous for her sexual rapaciousness and moral turpitude. After trashing the living room and molesting the guests, the spirit dashes upstairs to tempt Sister Sofia into some damnable self-pleasuring. The nun acquiesces at first, but after she gets hold of herself, the spirit decides to try Bimba’s room…

It’s significant that after the seance we see Bimba in the family garden, toting her teddy bear (an unmistakable symbol of childish innocence), frightened by a large snake. The biblical allusion couldn’t be clearer, to say nothing of the Freudian one. That night at dinner, Bimba curses at her grandmother and molests the help. Slapping her soundly and sending her to bed, Andrea wonders where she could have learned such behavior.

 With her limited life experience, Bimba—whose name translates as “girl,” marking her status as “every girl”—has as role models only the extremes of Sister Sofia’s piety and the rest of her family’s depravity. The mercenary sexual politics, the arguments, the maltreatment of Uncle Adolfo—all these inform Bimba’s ideas of what it means to be a grown-up.

Once she passes from innocence into experience—in this case through ghostly possession rather than a more traditional ravishment—she naturally asserts her maturity by imitating the adults around her.

 For example, later Bimba sneaks out to spy on Nais, who is trying to take advantage of the lonely Count. The seduction fails, leading Nais to get what she wants from Giorgio. Apparently what she wants is some very rough sex, which Bimba also sees. The girl returns to her room and re-enacts the scene using her teddy bear, rubbing him against her crotch in a disturbing corruption of the symbol of her innocence. Afterward, she stabs Teddy repeatedly and places a large candle in his crotch, amping up the violence and perversion she’s witnessed.

Bimba

Baffled, Andrea calls the family doctor. His prognosis that “some psychological decompensation linked to the first sexual experiences is typical of puberty” does little to console her worried father.

 An interesting parallel to Bimba’s character arc is that of Sister Sofia, who also teeters between a life of earthly pleasures and one of religious concerns. Already a woman, Sofia’s entry into the convent is an attempt to regain a state of innocence through spiritual devotion. But Sofia is clearly tempted by the pleasures of the flesh: she is Lucrezia’s first target, and is repeatedly tempted to sin again.

Lesbonic

When Nais later succeeds in seducing Andrea, Bimba brings Sofia to witness it. The forbidden sight has a strong effect on the sister, who must use all her willpower to resist Bimba’s lesbonic advances.

 Rebuffed, Bimba goes to visit Uncle Adolfo for the film’s most shocking scene. Unable to call for help, Adolfo can only watch as his niece undresses, somehow coaxes him to full erection, and performs oral sex on him! The incest is too much for Adolfo— he expires, leaving the quickly dis-possessed Bimba confused and horrified.

Looking at the film in the way I suggest, we see how Bimba’s bad behavior directly corresponds with that of the adults in her life. In fact, were it not for the opening séance/possession scene, one could almost explain Bimba’s actions as the doctor does: psychological disturbance brought on by puberty and her first (vicarious) sexual experiences. Thus, while Lucrezia’s ghost is the catalyst for her transformation from good girl to bad girl—from Bimba to Malabimba—one could argue it is her guardians’ examples that actually do all the damage.

 This is not to say that Bianchi and company didn’t set out to make a sexy and exploitative movie—they clearly did, and succeeded wildly.

Nais

Patrizia Webley is a statuesque blonde with screen presence to spare; her joyfully perverse performance is a highlight of the film, as are her energetic sex scenes. And Bianchi and Regnoli even work some nunsploitation into the mix with the temptations of Sister Sofia, played bravely and affectingly by Mariangela Giordano. (Giordano would reprise the role three years later in Bianchi’s near-remake of Malabimba, Satan’s Baby Doll, also available from Severin Films.)

 But it is Katell Laennec who carries the film, and her performance is nothing short of amazing. Turning on a dime from hapless ingenue to wicked temptress, Laennec portrays Bimba so confidently, you’d never guess this was her first screen appearance. And though the viewer might wonder how an innocent young girl could collect the frankly astonishing lingerie Bimba does, he will never be sad to see Laennec modeling it. It’s a shame this was her only credited film role.

Courtyard

Bianchi is aided immeasurably by the cinematography of Franco Villa. The wonderful compositions and moody lighting with excellent use of the gorgeous sets add a level of artistry that further separates this movie from its simply crotch-centered brethren. The excellent Severin DVD transfer more than does justice to Villa’s work.

 Extras on the DVD include an excellent featurette, Malabimba Uncovered, in which Villa and Giordano share many colorful remembrances of the shoot and the cast. (Interestingly, Villa asserts that he and Bianchi did not film the hardcore scenes for the X-rated version of the film; rather, these were merely inserts—if you will—added to many movies of the era for commercial purposes.)

Also included are many deleted scenes, which can be viewed individually or in an “integral version” of the finished film. 

For me, Malabimba works on several levels. As an Italian horror/sexploitation flick, it’s hard to top; but it also works as a coming-of-age allegory, a dark fairy tale about innocence corrupted by experience. In any event, it’s a beautiful, MAD movie well worth rediscovering.

The Vicar of VHS is a scoundrel and a rake, whom you should trust only as far as Paul Naschy could throw him. You can read more of his peculiar form of filmic evangelism at Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies.

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