Title: Lisa and the Devil (1974)
Director: Mario Bava
Starring: Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas, Alessio Orano
I’ve only recently discovered Mario Bava movies by watching two of his best and earliest efforts. Black Sabbath (1963) and Black Sunday (1960) both of which I immediately fell in love with. Two great gothic Italian horror mastepieces that I urge everyone out there who hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing to do so as soon as possible. Your missing out on some spooky good fun! So here I am, on my journey to see all of Mario Bava’s films. Lisa and the Devil caught my attention because of its premise. A girl being harassed by Satan, Telly Savalas playing the devil, a spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere, intrigue, murder, suspense, all the proper ingredients for a night of spooky fun. So how was Lisa and the Devil?
The story for this film is about Lisa, a tourist visiting Italy. Her tour guide takes her to see a fresco of The Devil. A painting depicting Satan carrying a dead guy off to the afterlife. She seems transfixed by the painting. Suddenly, she decides to abandon her tour group and starts to wonder off through the city. Her wandering leads her to an antique shop of sorts where she encounters a man. A strange man dressed in black who carries around a very life like mannequin. Is it a mannequin? Or could this possibly be the devil carrying off the dead to the afterlife? Suddenly, Lisa finds herself lost in the middle of the labyrinthine city streets! She cant find her way back to her tourist group! Day turns to night and she’s still wondering through the city streets, so she decides to hitch a ride with some strangers, who’s car unfortunately breaks down in the middle of nowhere! Now Lisa is forced to spend the night in a spooky old mansion, with the mansions Contessa and her son. Will they survive the night? Will Lisa ever get back to her normal life?
Right from the get go, you get the vibe that this movie isn’t going to be your regular run of the mill Bava movie. There’s just something off about the movie, something strange about it. Once you start seeing Lisa and the Devil, you kind of notice right away that Bava was purposely going for something different. I tried to pin point exactly what it was that was making this movie such a strange and challenging experience to watch and I came to a couple of conclusions. Number one, Bava was trying to tell this story in a very off kilter fashion, he was shooting for something different. The angles and the takes are never what you might expect; you really have to focus on this movie to stick to its story line. At times, it feels like Bava is deliberately trying to confuse you or catch you off guard. If you don’t pay attention, you might get lost during Lisa and the Devil. This is one of those movies were you have to try and notice and remember certain key visual references in order to keep up with the story. The movie does not spell things out for you.
Dream sequences get extremely trippy on Lisa and the Devil
Another thing I noticed was that Bava was aiming to make a film that felt very much like a dream. Once Lisa gets lost in that maze of Italian streets and ends up in the spooky old mansion, it’s all weirdsville from there on in. You are never really sure of anything that you are watching. At times I wasn’t sure if a certain character was a ghost, or not. If a certain character was evil or not. This movie had that strange uncertainty to it, and ambiguity to it that I must admit I enjoyed. Kind of felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone in that way.
After a while, I felt like Bava was trying to make a romanticized version of Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho (1960). Once Lisa arrives at the mansion, she meets Max, the one and only son of the Contessa, the owner of the mansion. The relationship between mother and son echoed that of the one seen in Hitchcock’s Psycho. You know, where the mother is the one in control over the son’s life. She’s very jealous of her son, even to the point where she doesn’t want him to fall in love with anyone. The fact that Mario Bava offered the role of Max to Anthony Perkins, who played Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho lets us know that this is partly what Bava was aiming for. But this movie wasn’t just going to be Bava’s version of Psycho. There is a lot more to Lisa and the Devil then that. It’s also about a family cursed with death, darkness and despair and in this sense the film also reminded me of those old Roger Corman movies like The Fall of the House of Usher (1960). That was a film about a cursed family with a dark past living in an isolated mansion, just like the one seen in Lisa and the Devil.
Bava had a two punch of success with Baron Blood and Twitch of the Death Nerve, both of which made money at the box office. So producer Alfred Leone gave Bava free reigns to do whatever the hell he wanted with Lisa and The Devil. The problem with this movie was that once it was finished, producers thought it was just too weird. No one wanted to buy and distribute the movie because it was deemed a hard sell. I get it. It’s true. The film is weird, and maybe its not a straight forward horror movie. But the film also has its attributes. It’s a beautiful film to look at. Its different, surreal, nightmarish, and it still remains its horror element. Maybe it didn’t really have enough horror to it. Producers were probably expecting some sort of blood bath they could sell, instead what they got was a horror film that focuses more on romance and melodrama. So be ready for that. Lisa and the Devil has a lot of romance for a horror film, which kind of brings the horror element down a couple of notches. But it never stops being weird and surreal. It certainly is a strange film to try and categorize, and I can see why it gave producers a hard time. Its slow paced, its weird, its horror elements are toned down a bit, and these are really not negative points in my book.
Bava was just trying to do something different. It felt to me like a very atmospheric, romantic, strange horror movie. But studios don’t care for strange and unusual, they want something that the masses can consume easily. Spoon feed them with stupidity. As a result, Alfred Leone, this films producer took the film, re-edited it, shot some new scenes with a new story involving Lisa possessed by the devil and released it under the new title The House of Exorcism. This version of the film changes the story completely, and makes it about Lisa getting possessed after she looks at the devils fresco in the streets of Italy. It has scenes of Lisa tied up to a hospital bed, being examined by doctors and priests. Ultimately, the film has an exorcism scene. It’s quite obvious from looking at this new version that they were just trying to cash in on the success of The Exorcist (1973) a film that as we all know also dealt with a girl possessed by the devil and which was met with incredible success at the box office.
The re-edit of the film made it into a cheap rip off of The Exorcist (1973)
House of Exorcism is not a film that I recommend watching. It takes everything that Bava tried to make with Lisa and the Devil and destroys it. Where Bava was trying to do something different, surreal and at the same time beautiful with Lisa and the Devil; The House of Exorcism went in the complete opposite direction and tried to make it into a cheap rip off of The Exorcist. Right down to having Lisa spewing all sorts of profanity at a priest after she vomits on him. I mean, honestly, House of Exorcism is a travesty in my book. I’m not gonna say that Lisa and the Devil is for everyone, because it isn’t. It’s a strange film with a strange vibe to it. Its kind of hard to follow, and becomes a bit convoluted at times. But I enjoyed it, its like a puzzle you have to try and figure out, and if you enjoy this kind of film, you will more then likely feel compelled to see it more then once. As for the films weirdness, what a boring world it would be if there were no daring filmmakers out there trying to do something different!
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5