A Movie A Day: Quint on LISA & THE DEVIL (1973) I prefer ghosts to vampires, though. They’re so much more human.
Published at: Sept. 9, 2008, 2:18 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today is Mario Bava’s LISA & THE DEVIL, produced by Jose Gutierrez Maesso, who wrote yesterday’s TRAGIC CEREMONY. To further bridge the two films yesterday was about a Satanic Cult and this one is about the Devil. Kinda. A little bit. Maybe? Yeah, it is, I think.
This is another weird one. So weird in fact, the DVD comes as a double feature with a flick called THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM, which is a recut version of this movie to capitalize on the success of THE EXORCIST. I knew this going in, but was pretty shocked as LISA & THE DEVIL unfolded because there is absolutely nothing involving possession in Bava’s film.
What you have is Elke Sommer as a tourist (named Lisa, naturally) in Italy who is looking at an old fresco of “Satan taking the dead to hell,” and that Satan is bald with a distincitive mole and face structure. Yeah, the only thing the devil’s head didn’t have was a sucker in his mouth.
Of course, she gets lost and finds herself in a creepy little antiques-y store where Telly Savalas is sucking on a lolly while admiring a custom made mannequin he’s about to take out.
Now, I didn’t really love this movie, but it gets so bizarre that I can’t help but respect it. For instance, Lisa runs into Savalas shortly after, while running around lost in the cobblestoned alleys of Italy and he’s carrying the mannequin, but it’s obviously not a mannequin anymore, but an actor playing the mannequin.
But Bava only films the real actor at one or two angles during Sommer and Savalas’ conversation and the mannequin is there for the majority of it. That’s kind of fucking brilliant.
Especially when Elke runs into the mannequin man a scene later, freaks out and inadvertently pushes him down a flight of steps, killing him.
She’s still lost, mind you, so she wanders a bit and is picked up by a rich couple and their driver. Of course, the car breaks down at a castle and guess who opens the door… Mr. Savalas, but not as the Lord of the house. Nope, Satan is a butler, another nice move.
But the movie kind of falls into a weird experimental bit of insanity from this point out. There’s something off about the family living there. There’s an innocent looking young man, begging Elke to stay, his blind mother who seems to hate everybody and something that likes cake and lives behind a mirror.
Of course people start dying and Sommers screams a lot as the camera shimmies. I can’t say I was particularly drawn into the plot of the family… it wasn’t all that interesting, to be perfectly honest, but Telly Savalas is what keeps you clued in. He’s insane and his performance swings for the fences.
Gotta say, though, I really did dig the ending, which takes place on an airplane (yeah, I was surprised, too). I won’t spoil it, but I enjoyed moving the setting out of Example 47 of Scary European Castle and the final shot is one you see coming from a mile away, but damn if it isn’t fulfilling.
Final Thoughts: I can’t complain… there’s some good gore, good atmosphere, Elke Sommers nudity and Telly Savalas just going hellbent for leather make for a fascinating watch even if the movie is uneven at best. I’m actually really curious to see how different the EXORCIST rip-off take on the material is. Melding ‘70s US studio exploitation with ‘70s EuroHorror style will either be a huge mess or cause a black hole of coolness that’ll destroy the world. Fun trivia fact: Savalas did Kojak this same year and this flick marks the first time he had his trademark suckers because he was attempting to quit smoking. Interesting, eh?