Lisa and the Devil (1973)

a.k.a. - Lisa e il diavolo (ITA), El diablo se lleva a los muertos (ESP)

Telly Savalas and Elke Sommer star in Mario Bava's unmatched vision of nightmarish horror. ABUS R0 DVD

The Film

Lisa (Elke Sommer) is an American tourist visiting a small town in rural Spain. She leaves the group to look in a small shop where she encounters the mysterious Leandro (Telly Savalas). On leaving the shop she finds herself unable to return to the central square, travelling down endless small streets until darkness when she is picked up by a couple in their car. They only travel a short way before breaking down outside a mansion where Leandro works as the servant. The group are invited to stay in the house but as the seemingly never ending night goes on, a strange sequence of events plays out.

Mario Bava's rather dreary return to the gothic horror genre in Baron Blood (1972) proved to be one of his most profitable films, particularly in the all important American marker and producer Alfredo Leone was happy to give Bava a carte blanche for his next project, to make a film entirely of his own creation. Lisa and the Devil is therefore the director's most authentic project, almost entirely free of external exploitaion influences (Leone did pursuade Bava to include visible nudity in the sex scenes) and if nothing else it proves how much talent was wasted when he was stuck directing films like Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966) or La strada per Forte Alamo (1964).

Bava's best horror films always managed to conjour up a dream-like feel in places but here he has refined this atmosphere to its ultimate conclusion, giving the whole film the tone and texture of a nightmare. This mood starts from the very beginning as Lisa runs through the seemingly never ending streets unable to get back to where she started. As she is drawn into the strange mansion the film ambles along with almost no pacing and the bizarre surreality only found in dreams. Much like Bava's subsequent Cani arrabbiati (1975), the most noteworthy aspect of Lisa and the Devil is the purity of its theme. As his later crime film stuck rigidly to the close confines to the criminal group in the car, so the script here stays entirely in Lisa's nightmarish experience, with no attempts to open the film up or add in unnecessary subplots (something that producer Alfredo Leone would try and do in the re-edited version, House of Exorcism where these scenes were interspersed with real-world shots and which served to prove what a bad idea it was). As a result the film is very slow and never really makes any sense which would doubtless disappoint anyone wanting a straight horror movie, but as dreamlike films go it is one of the most effective ever made, building to a wonderfully fitting conclusion.

As a director, Bava was always a hard worker, whether he was working on one of his own carefully nurtured productions or just a director-for-hire, bringing creative camerawork and clever tricks that livened up even the most mundane storyline (cf. Five Dolls for an August Moon (1971)). Working on his own production here he does some of his most memorable work, perfectly attuned to the storyline. Long drifting tracking shots combine with beautifully designed sets to give the film a stunning visual feel. The soundtrack is perfectly fitting with some creative use of Rodriguez's beautiful Concierto de Aranjuez which seems to flow through the entire production.

Elke Sommer takes the lead role and looks appropriately haunted in the part while Telly Savalas is simply superb as the mysterious butler and gives one his most memorable peformances. The rest of the cast includes a number of very familiar faces to genre fans, Sylva Koscina is perhaps most recognisable as the wife of Steve Reeves' Hercules in Le Fatiche di Ercole (1958) and its sequel while her husband is played by Eduardo Fajardo, a Spaghetti Western veteran best known for playing Major Jackson in Django (1966). Gabriele Tinti (frequent co-star of Laura Gemser in the Black Emanuelle films) and Alida Valli (the matriarchal ballet school teacher in Suspiria (1977)) also have key roles as a chauffer and the mansion owner respectively. Obviously completely unintentionally, the inclusion of all these familiar faces in unexpected roles does give the film an additional dreamlike edge.

Perhaps more than any of his other productions, Lisa and the Devil can be seen as the culmination of Bava's lifetime of work in the cinema. The nightmarish atmosphere is stunningly realised in a way that few films before or since have come close to matching and the purity of the vision is simply outstanding. Fans of dreamlike cinema will enjoy this and it is a must-see for fans of Mario Bava, but the langurious pacing and general lack of narrative drive in the story will not appeal to most audiences and it is this that would be film's undoing - despite a good reception at the Cannes' Film Festival it attracted no interest from distributors and remained on the shelf until producer Alfredo Leone called Bava back in to reshoot and edit the film with more populist appeal as House of Exorcism.

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 - widely travelled actress who also appeared in Peter Sellers comedy A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - best known for his horror work, including Kill, Baby, Kill (1966) he did also work as a director for hire on films like Ringo del Nebraska (1966) and Five Dolls for the August Moon (1970).
Any gore or violence ? A couple of bloody scenes.
Any sex or nudity? Some brief female nudity.
Who is it for? A must see for fans of Bava and recommended to all fans of surreal and dreamlike cinema.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
Picture quality is strong with good colour and detail.
Audio English mono - sounds fine throughout.
Subtitles None.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary from Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas - as usual, conveying a lot of information but perhaps could have gone into more detail on the story behind the subsequent 'House of Exorcism' cut as well.
  • Theatrical trailer - never used and without an on-screen title for the film.
Availability Only available in the The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2 along with the House of Exorcism cut.
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? The print used here may have been slightly edited from Bava's original - it is derived from a television presentation of the film created by Allied Artists in the mid-1980s during which the original negative was lost. The Sylva Koscina sex scene in particular seems to be longer in the 'House of Exorcism' cut of the film but without use of newly filmed footage and it unclear if Leone used unusued footage or whether the full sex scene was originally in this print. 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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