Lisa and the Devil (1974) -"Lisa e il diavolo"
Having seen this film and the other cut of it The House of Exorcism I was excited to here that the fine folks at Deadlantern.com's The World Famous Splattercast were going to cover it. So excited in fact that I re-watched both version and listened to the audio commentary while doing so. Of course I had to avoid hearing the podcast until I finished this writing which for me is a task. I really wanted to listed but like to have formed my own opinions before being influence by the the fine commentary provided by the crew at deadLantern. Lisa and the Devil had excellent commentary by Tim Lucas who wrote the book Mario Bava : All the Colors of the Dark as well as other genre books. Probably one of the more expensive coffee table books I have seen, and will not own. Again you want to watch the film prior to watching it with the commentary. When sharing that commentary in this write up I will make the text whether quote or paraphrasing I will put the text in italics instead of making a separate citation each time. There was so much interesting commentary in this film that I would recommend you take a listen. Whether sharing the origins of the fresco that Lisa (Elke Sommer) looks at at the beginning of the film or the musical piece accompanying the music box or giving background on the actors, Lucas is knowledgeable and detailed adding to the depth of the film.
Lisa is a tourist visiting an unnamed town, the first stop off the bus is a fresco of the devil carrying away souls. Bava had the fresco made for the film with the likeness of Telly Savalas who plays Leandro in this film as the devil character. It was also common for Bava to use the idea of an image of someone becoming real in his films. She is about to take a journey on the strange side and does not know it. Drawn by music in the distance she walks off on her own, finding her way to a small shop where the music, Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto Dara Weiss is playing. It's a turning point as she is seen by Leandro (Telly Savalas) as he who she sees in flash to be the spitting image of the devil from the fresco. Frightened she hurriedly leaves the store and we can hear Leandro saying "How strange, how strange, you'd think she'd seen the devil."
Espartaco Santoni) and in a neat bit of editing he appears to be real. Again this calls back the image of the fresco with the devil carrying away the dead. Lisa is ready to be out of this scary situation and takes the directions from Leandro that should get her out of the back allies. Would you trust his directions? She seems a bit ensnared at this point. Coming up some stairs there is at least a view of the city but in front of her is a man coming her way. She sees it is Carlo the spitting image of the dummy Leandro was carrying. He thinks she is a woman called Elena and this makes her even more panicked. Bava has both a sister and a daughter named Elena and important name to him. When he touches her like he knows her her reaction is to push him away with dire consequences. Really this is a transition in the film where Lisa leave one world and enters another. She is a pawn in the devils diabolical plans and just does not know it yet. She is still looking for a way out but the possibly dead man at the bottom of the stairs means she is stuck. We see her shout for help and in the next instant she is still wandering in the dark. Has a lot of time passed so the sun has gone down, or is it a supernatural darkness? It really is never explained but can be an indication that she is in some kind of other worldly situation. There is a time shift that starts at the fall of carlo probably signified by the shot of his watch with its broken hands across each other. Have two time crossed and now we are in a dream world where normal rules do not apply? Are the lights she sees her salvation or will they bring her more trouble?
This is the beginning of a strange journey for Lisa, a surreal journey into darkness where reality seems warped. Outside the store it takes the form of a maze like city, of winding streets. She searches for the way back to the fresco but can't find it. She seeks help but can't find any. Her anxiety increases when she runs into Leandro again in a back ally square. He is carrying a dummy of Carlo (
Here I go again writing a summary of the film instead of a review of it. It is so easy to be caught up in the details and there are so many details. I will try to be better, really I will. This first part of the film is a way of showing that the devil has ensnared Lisa. If I were to pick out reasons why it works I would say the sense of confusion that Lisa experiences is well relayed through the scenes of her wandering the narrow allies of the town and her fear captured with low angled camera shot. What I think does not work so well here is that there is really no reason for her to be caught up in the story. If you pay attention in the shop where she sees the music box you will see that the characters on the box are driven around in a circle by death. So much of this film is about death, so if we take the box as symbolic then maybe the film itself is a circle that repeats, but I am getting ahead of the film here.
When she runs into Carlo on the stairs and he recognizes her as someone else we can surmise that maybe at the beginning of the devil's cycle with these characters she does not remember who she is? Is she actually Elena? Is this Elena's private hell where she is transported into this place to feel the confusion of being lost? At any rate Lisa is a very underdeveloped character, we really don't know anything about her or the woman Elena she was mistaken for. A weakness of the film has to be that she never becomes a fully developed character and it is left for interpretation whether she actually is Elena. It may be that because Lisa is not real, she could never have depth, she is a shell that Elena is using to try to escape the devil's influence. Never does she do anything to improve or hinder her situation, she just has these events happen to her. Much like the dummy's of the characters in the film Lisa is a mannequin of the film itself she is moved place to place but it really is never of her own doing.
The second act has Lisa getting a ride in a car owned by a couple Frances (Eduardo Fajardo) and Sophia Lehar (Sylva Koscina). It is a cool scene where we see from the stares between the people in the car that Sophia is having an affair with the chauffeur George (Gabriele Tinti) and that Mr. Lehar knows of it. It is an added dynamic to what is going on in their world. The car is having problems with its hoses and sputtering and overheating. The four of them are forced to stop at a local villa so repairs can be made. This sets up the primary story of ghosts and love lost and death and rebirth. The house is owned by the blind Countess (Alida Valli) and she lives there with her son Max (Alessio Orano) with butler Leandro. Naturally they are offered the hospitality of the house and here is the rub. Lisa seeing Leandro, tries to hide in the background but is seen. He presses her about whether she recognizes him. A telling statement of Very Little escapes me if you know what I mean." lends to the idea that he is the devil. So if all the players are in a hell world the story of the house is the horror they must relive. The story in the house is of Carlo is the husband of the Countess. Elena is engaged to Max and then has an affair with Carlo. Max being a psycho kills both Elena and Carlo for their act of betrayal. They are brought back together into this house to rediscover the horrors of their sins by the devil again and again. The betrayal of infidelity is represented not only in the back story of the occupants but in the relationship between George and the Lehers. Each time the outcome will be murder. Another symbol of this manipulation could be the music box, a circular disc spins the six figures watched over by the death character, The Queen, King, Bride, Groom, Male outside and death representing the Countess, Max, Lehers George and Leandro they are driven in circles. There is actually a point in the movie where the group is being lead by Leandro through the grounds in the same order as the figures on the music box.
Primarily it is Max who is seen as the psychopath of the film but he is not the only sinner here. When it all plays out we think Lisa finds a way to escape and comes out of what is now a ruined house. Years of decay showing the rubble signifying she is back in the real world. Little kids playing there call her a ghost and say that everyone knows the ruins are haunted. Lisa thinking that she has survived heads out of town, a second chance? The plane she is on seems deserted and the music lets us know that the ending will not be good for her. When she finds the rest of the cast, dead looking in the plane and runs for the cockpit we see that very little actually does escape Leandro as he turns the pilot of the plain. Ultimately the story is about the power of the spirit world to control the fate of us humans. We are the pawns in the games run by Gods or monsters and our actions condemn us but we in the end have little power in changing a fate that has been casts. Lisa when she falls against the plane wall appears to be another body dummy to be played with by the devil. As he said, very little escapes him.
No there are a lot of things to like about this film, some interesting camera shots, like the POV of the car pulling up to the villa. Not from the point of view of the driver though but from Lisa in the passengers seat. The already mentioned low angle shots in the town. There are a number of reflection shots in a spilled bottle of wine or in any other reflective glass where the focus changes fore to background or visa versa.. On top of the camerawork by cinematographer Cecilio Paniagua is the just excellent soundtrack by Carlo Savina. Overall the pacing was relaxed but being a child of the seventies I have to say really not too slow. Its no Phase IV or Vanishing Point. Still for a younger audience the first part of this film will seem slow. Bava is one of my favorite directors and I was pleased to be able to see what he wanted to be his defining work, Still there are others I love more , The Girl Who Knew Too Much and the classic Black Sunday to name a couple. Having watched it I can listen to @rachiepants on the Splattercast podcast and see what she thought. I was equally displeased with the strange disjointed money grab this film became in the form of The House of Exorcism, a horrible trashing of this film for the sake of money.