05th Feb2013

‘Lisa and the Devil’ Blu-ray Review

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano, Gabriele Tinti, Kathy Leone, Eduardo Fajardo, Franz von Treuberg, Espartaco Santoni, Alida Valli | Written and Directed by Mario Bava


When it comes to Italian horror it’s fair to say that Mario Bava is one of the most known names. A visionary director he’s brought us the likes of Black Sunday and not only paved the way for the success of Italian horror but also brought us some truly unique films, one of them being Lisa and the Devil. Now that Arrow Video have brought this classic directors cut to Blu-ray along with the alternative version House of Exorcism we can see what his original vision was and why in my view it’s one of his best pieces of work.

When holidaying in Spain, Lisa is shown a painting said to be of the devil, lured away from the group she is with she finds herself lost in the backstreets, meeting a strange character who offers her help she follows his instructions but fails to find her way back to her group. Accepting a lift from a couple they soon find their way to an old mansion where the same stranger from before welcomes Lisa and the others in for the night. Lisa soon finds herself having deja-vu style memories of the past, and infatuated with Max a young man who lives in the mansion with his blind mother. Though the mother warns Lisa to leave, Max is adamant ignores her and stay. As the night gets stranger and more surreal, Lisa soon finds herself trapped in a nightmare where nothing is as it seems.

It’s hard to write a synopsis of Lisa and the Devil that makes sense, because at first it’s hard to even begin to understand exactly what you are seeing. In a whirlwind of strange characters, life size dolls and a devilish butler Leandro played by Telly Savalas you will watch the movie in total confuse until close to the end. Given time though and perseverance the plot does come together; though I have read some comments that say it’s impossible to understand. These are incorrect of course, you just have to understand what is happening and with experience of more films like this you do connect the dots and start to understand its surrealist nature.

The beauty of Lisa and the Devil is that it’s not literal, if anything it’s metaphysical. If you do find it too confusing you can always watch the alternative version House of Exorcism which is a re-editing of the story with added scenes. In an attempt to cash in on the popularity of The Exorcist and pull back some cash from the failure Lisa and the Devil was seen to be it is a good film in its own right. For my tastes though I prefer the original for its style and bravery. It’s a film that is not afraid to trust in the intelligence of the watcher and give you free reign to enjoy the experience.

Whichever version you watch there is one thing that remains constant and that is Telly Savalas. Giving a charismatic lollipop sucking performance he literally dominates the scenes he is in, and while not blatantly called the devil it’s clear that he is the puppet master of the piece pulling in all the characters to the ultimate climax. He’s the master manipulator and gleefully watches as the events take place, fully in control even though in fact he never actually takes part in any of the horrific events, in a literal manner of course. My only hint is to say he’s the puppet master, that is enough said and the fact that this is where Savalas first brought in his trademark lollipop (Bava said it would help him with his character) which is a very interesting little piece of trivia for a film and TV history fan like me.

In providing the Blu-ray release of Lisa and the Devil, Arrow Video have allowed us to see what I think is one of Mario Bava’s masterpieces. The greatest crime of course is that this film never managed to get a distributor when it was first shown in Cannes. I like to think that classic horror fans have grown to like surreal movies like this from the past and that we have more of a respect for the original vision of Bava as Lisa and the Devil is truly a film where he was in full control of the vision. While not taking anything away from House of Exorcism and the work Bava and Alfredo Leone did with that work, where that was a cash in on the popularity of The Exorcist, Lisa and the Devil is the truly unique classic.

Lisa and the Devil is out now on Blu-ray (Dual Format) from Arrow Video.


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