House of Exorcism (1975)

a.k.a. - La casa dell'esorcismo (ITA)

Elke Sommer stars in Alfredo Leone's exploitation re-edit of Mario Bava's visionary horror film. ABUS R0 DVD

The Film

Visiting a small town in Spain, Lisa (Elke Sommer) visits a small shop and bumps into the mysterious Leandro (Telly Savalas). After leaving the shop she is struck down and starts fitting - she is taken to a hospital where she starts to exhibit bizzare symptoms and a priest is worried that she might be possessed. Meanwhile, Lisa's soul is trapped in a nightmarish world of horrors...

After the financial success of his rather uninspired return to gothic horror, Baron Blood (1972), producer Alfredo Leone gave Bava the chance to direct a project entirely of his own choosing. Free from outside influences, Bava wrote and directed Lisa and the Devil (1973). A stunning film with a vividly realised dreamlike atmosphere, it was simply too slow and sedate for audiences at the time, competing against films like The Exorcist (1973). Despite highly positive reviews, the film was not picked up for distribution in any of the major markets and sat on the shelf. When it became clear that the film had no commercial future, producer Alfredo Leone, trying to recoup his investment, wrote a new script around the existing footage and shot new scenes in a determined attempt to turn the visionary horror film into commercially viable exploitation.

Leone's changes are simple - he takes an off-the-shelf possession storyline and uses the dreamlike original footage as the nightmarish world in which Lisa's soul is trapped during her possession. Although quite few, the newly added scenes are a very crude Exorcist (1973) rip-off that tick-off clichés like an I Spy book - crude language, sexual insults, convulsions, petty vandalism and of course, green vomit - the appearance of a Priest is far too quick to be believable, as is his decision that she must be possessed. The exorcism itself is a similarly generic and uninspired affair with a non-sensical ending. The composite storyline is surprisingly able to make something of a sense of the tie-ins to Bava's original storyline, although this somewhat destroys the beautiful ambiguity of the original.

Like the new storyline, the newly directed footage from Alfredo Leone is bland and unexciting - the contast between the directing styles works well however as Bava's scenes are supposed to be a dreamlike world and Leone's are the real world. There are a few clever transitions between the two sequences to start with, but this is generally forgotten as the film progresses. Bava's footage is generally untouched - the original dubbing and editing remains as does the music although the two nude shots of the original are more visible now (the later shot of Elke Sommer has a matte removed that obscured some of the image, the earlier scene with Sylva Koscina might be extended, although the only remaining print of Lisa may have been slightly cut, so the footage might be the same as in the original).

Elke Sommer is the only member of the cast to return for the reshoots - Savalas is represented by a good looking body double in an extended version of one of the opening scenes although his insistance on keeping his back to the camera betrays the mimicry and fortunately they do not try this again. Sommer has a very challenging part as the possessed Lisa and seems to be really giving it her all.

Throughout his career, Bava stepped in numerous times to save productions that were in trouble. With I Vampiri (1956) he was forced into a major rewrite to complete the half-shot film in just two days after Riccardo Freda walked off the set, working a new storyline around existing footage. However, such an act was not going to save this film and although it finally secured commercial interest and saw the film distributed, the House of Exorcism cut is greatly inferior, turning a stunningly visionary film into a mediocre exploitation project - the new scenes in particular are utterly meritless. Bava himself had his name removed from the credits on most prints. Impossible to recommend on its own merits, the film is however quite interesting to demonstrate just how radical producer's cuts can be and the fact that the original cut still exists offers the rare chance to compare both versions directly.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Telly Savalas - best known for his role in the Kojak television series, he also appeared in a variety of films.
Elke Sommer - a widely travelled actress who also appeared in British comedy Carry on Behind (1975)
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - he defined the Giallo genre with Sei donne per l'assassino (1964) and later made one of the most effective sci-fi horror films Terrore Nello Spazio (1965).
Any gore or violence ? A couple of bloody scenes.
Any sex or nudity? A few scenes of female nudity.
Who is it for? Not worth watching on its own merits, it will only really be of interest as a comparison piece.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
Picture quality is strong with good colour and detail.
The opening credits are taken from a lower quality source with a 1.66:1 ratio.
Audio English mono - sounds fine throughout.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary from Alfredo Leone and star Elke Sommer from the earlier Image US DVD, some interesting background but could have used a moderator to ask a few questions that go unanswered.
  • Two theatrical trailers.
  • Radio spot.
Availability Only available in the The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2 including the Lisa and the Devil cut as well.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Also available in Italy from Raro including both cuts of the film with English and Italian audio (although no English subtitles). Previously available from Image in the US, including extended footage shot for one of the sex scenes and commentary from Leone on one of the trailers.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut as per Alfredo Leone's final cut. Print language is English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 22nd October 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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