Review of "Lisa and the Devil (DVD)"

published 21/02/2012 | hogsflesh
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Pro Some great, haunting imagery
Cons Quite slow, soap opera style plot
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"Every corner of the soul is lost to the icy clutch of the supernatural"

It's Telly Savalas!

It's Telly Savalas!

A review of just the film. An all-regions DVD can be imported through amazon for about £10.

This is an Italian horror movie from 1974, one of the last directed by Mario Bava, one of the great visual stylists of European horror. It’s had a rather chequered history since it was made: no one would distribute it in its original form, so Bava was obliged to tack on a lot of irrelevant Satanic possession scenes to cash in on The Exorcist. The resulting film, an incoherent mess, was released as House of Exorcism. Happily, Bava’s original version of Lisa and the Devil has since been released. Avoid the House of Exorcism version like the black death; if you’re in an indulgent mood, though, the original cut of Lisa and the Devil is a strange treat.

Year: 1974

Director: Mario Bava
Stars: Telly Savalas

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IMDB User Rating: 6.2

A tourist, Lisa, gets lost in the maze-like back alleys of a Spanish city. Eventually she gets a lift with a posh couple and their chauffeur. When their car breaks down, they’re forced to take refuge in a sinister mansion. The son of the house seems to know Lisa already – but why does he call her Elena? And why does his blind mother instinctively distrust her new guests? And why is the sinister, bald, lollipop-sucking butler messing around with tailors’ dummies so much? And who else is lurking in the grounds and attic?

This film starts out pretty slowly. The initial lost-in-the-city scenes are quite good, but after Lisa and friends arrive at the mansion the film turns into a posh soap opera. Characters have romantic assignations and conversations laden with meaning, and there’s no overt horror until about the halfway mark. Whether this gradual buildup is essential mood building or just time-wasting will probably depend on your point of view. The characters are drawn with the broadest brush strokes imaginable, and wear some really ghastly clothes (one guy’s collar is so big it distracted me from most of what he was saying). The film is shot in a very soft-focus style, and the music is unbelievably gloopy. (It uses Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez quite a bit, which, whatever its merits otherwise, is certainly not horror film music.) All of this just underlines how much like a trashy soap opera this film is – even the opening credits look like a slightly odd version of Dynasty.

Once things get going it turns into something like a regular giallo (gialli are Italian murder mystery/horror movies in which characters are bumped off in a variety of novel ways by a killer whose identity is only revealed at the end). Although the death scenes are gory they aren’t terribly extreme by 1974 standards, and while it tries for suspense it doesn’t achieving it very often. It does become unexpectedly sleazy towards the end, though, and the climax manages the awesome feat of being both incomprehensible and predictable.

But for all its shortcomings, this film does have some wonderfully macabre imagery. Bava was always about using images to create a mood, and here there are moments that are as effective as any of his other work. There’s perhaps a bit too much of the camera focusing on incidental details of scenery – usually of statues or timepieces – and too many tight close-ups of people’s eyes, but when the film is good it’s excellent. There’s one sequence I can’t spoil that manages to be perverse, macabre and rather distasteful all at once. And, although it had become a dreadful cliché by this point (not least because of earlier Bava movies), the tailor’s dummies are deployed to full, sinister effect.

The cast is led by Telly Savalas, of all people. He plays Leandro, the, er, sinister, bald, lollipop-sucking butler. He’s certainly good value, dancing effortlessly along the tightrope strung between ‘silly’ and ‘sinister’. We know right from the beginning that there’s more to him than meets the eye (there’s a hilarious painting at the beginning which depicts him as the devil). Lisa is played by Elke Sommer, a pretty German actress. She’s best known in this country for her comic roles in A Shot in the Dark and Carry On Behind. Sad to say she’s a bit of a blank as Lisa, never really letting us believe that she cares all that much about what’s happening. This may well be a deliberate decision – she has a certain somnambulist grace – but it doesn’t entirely work. The rest of the cast play their stock parts well enough, with only Alida Valli as the blind matriarch being otherwise well known. Gabriele Tinti, a regular in certain disreputable Italian soft core porn films, is rather wasted as a chauffeur.

The film on the whole has enough surreal imagery to be worth a look, I think. It won’t change the way you look at the world, or even scare you particularly. It’s self-indulgent, silly, badly paced and indifferently acted. The incidental music is poor and visually it often resembles bad television. But for all that it’s hard not to like it at least a little bit, and at its best it casts a spell over you as effectively as anything else I’ve seen recently.

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Comments on this review

  • tallulahbang published 27/02/2012
    It's rare that I want to watch a horror film, but this one's going on the list. xx
  • dawnymarie published 22/02/2012
    Excellent x
  • costas1234 published 21/02/2012
    excellent detailed review
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Product Information : Lisa and the Devil (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

DVD Region: DVD

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Bava, Mario

Classification: 18 years and over

Production Year: 1977


Listed on Ciao since: 09/02/2012