What the heck was that all about?
That was my reaction after finishing Lisa and the Devil, another one of Mario Bava's pretty-but-pointless horror films. The main character is Lisa (Elke Sommer), a tourist in Barcelona. There she sees a fresco of the Devil taking away the dead, and the Devil has Telly Savalas' face, which is not all that surprising because his name was in the credits. Even less surprising is that Lisa runs across Telly, playing Leandro, the butler for the local Countess. Lisa runs from the encounter, but soon finds herself hopelessly lost. Eventually she runs across a car containing a rich couple and their chauffeur. She asks for a ride, but soon the car develops trouble and they are forced to spend the night at a mansion -- belonging to the aforementioned Countess.
Once in the mansion, Leandro lurking nearby, the foursome settles in for dinner, where they meet the Countess and her bizarre son, Max (Alessio Orano). Max seems to be drawn to Lisa and vice versa, while the Countess is sure some fifth person has entered the mansion. Meanwhile Leandro shows a penchant for lugging mannequins around the mansion, claiming they are for a dress rehearsal of a funeral. As with all Italian horror films, the married rich couple is dysfunctional, so the wife is sleeping with the chauffeur. As the night goes on people begin to die, but for what reason and by whose hand is unknown until the shocking conclusion -- which makes no sense whatsoever.
This movie takes a long time to say very little. The murder scenes are few and far between, and the rest of the film is filled with weird imagery, like the music box that entrances Lisa every now and then and gives her flashbacks to someone else's life. There are hints that this is supposed to be some sort of fate driven reincarnation situation, but it never gels. After about the third time we see a shot of something "important," like repeated shots of a broken watch, or after about the third time a mannequin comes alive and reverts back without explanation, most moviegoers will have already fled. And if that doesn't drive viewers away, Telly Savalas' eccentric and surely improvised monologue about halfway through the movie is sure to finish the job.
Not surprisingly, this movie was never released in theaters anywhere. Another version, with additional footage shot by the film's producer and designed to capitalize on the success of The Exorcist was released in theaters under the name of House of Exorcism.
Some minor wear and tear aside, this nearly 30-year-old movie looks great. The darker scenes show a little grain, but over all the colors are vibrant (almost hyper-real) and the image is detailed. The sound, on the other hand, is pretty annoying. Presented in mono, certain off-camera dialogue was recorded far too quiet to be comfortably heard, even when it's supposed to be something Lisa is overhearing!
Because this film was never released in theaters in this form, there is no theatrical trailer. Image's disc includes a rough-cut trailer that might have been used had the movie been released in this form.
Scott Hamilton, 10/3/00