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Lisa and the Devil (1973)
27th Feb 13
After getting lost in Toledo, Lisa ends up at a strange mansion where a strange butler does strange things and strangely enough, people start dying. How strange.
Coinciding with the release of Mario Bava’s masterful Black Sunday this month is a more colourful, later offering from the great director, Lisa and the Devil. As is customary with the Arrow titles, the Blu Ray disc comes loaded with extras including the alternative version, House of Exorcism. So…let’s see. They made Lisa and the Devil shortly after The Exorcist was released, re-cut and re-shot some scenes, then re-named it? Shameless behavior. Absolutely shameless beyond belief. But you have to love those crazy Italians, eh?
When Lisa (Elke Sommers) is visiting Toledo, Spain, she leaves her tour group to visit a shop where she encounters Leandro (Telly Savalas), who looks spookily similar to the devil in a fresco she has just seen. She soon becomes lost in the streets, eventually getting a lift with some strangers and ending up in a creepy big house where a Contessa (Alida Valli) lives with her son Maximilian (Alessio Orano) and a butler we’ve already met who strongly resembles Kojak. When young Maximilian becomes infatuated with Lisa due to her similarity to his dead lover Eleanor, guests are killed off one by one. But by whom? Soon, Lisa finds herself in a living nightmare involving freaky mannequins, a Bruce Lee lookalike, and a grown man sucking lollipops like they’re going out of fashion.
It’s true. Telly Savalas actually sucks lollipops in this movie. Was that part of his contract? Or did the Italian producers think that familiar image of Telly sucking on sticks would help sell the film to the US? Well they were wrong, because both versions of this movie flopped. However, Savalas is well worth your dollar as the diabolic butler-type, and Bava uses him to great effect, particularly when he’s walking through the sunny Toledo streets, carrying and talking to the hairy-lipped mannequin of Carlos, the Countess’ dead husband. Look out also for a very cool shot of Sevalas’ reflection in spilled red wine during the dinner scene; it’s quite an unsettling image, showcasing Bava’s visual flair and graceful use of colour.
The beautiful Elke Sommer does her best at keeping the somewhat tangled narrative afloat here, but she is constantly running into the deceased Carlos in the creepy corridors at almost every turn, which becomes tiresome after a while. When not walking around the big house or running from moustaches, she is being wooed by Maximilian in a cheesy “I didn’t know anyone could be as beautiful as you” sort of way and before too long, you really want some answers. Answers you don’t really get.
Despite this, Lisa… is still an impressive looking modern gothic fantasy. It’s also the stuff of nightmares at their most surreal and unsettling, particularly when it comes to a certain collection of messed-up mannequins, which pave the way for even more grotesque corpses in the latter part of proceedings. The killings are few and far between here; it’s a tiny cast, so there are only so many people to be stabbed or brain-bashed in the 90-odd minutes. But don’t let a low bodycount put you off; as is typical of Bava, it’s all about the atmosphere. The ending is pretty cool, too.