Lisa and the Devil (1973)

Lisa (Elke Sommer) is a German tourist visiting a small village in Spain.  During the tour she sees a medieval fresco on the side of the church that shows the Devil taking away the dead, and hears a local legend that the only reason the fresco still exists is that it is protected by the devil.  Shortly after, she leaves her friend and enters a shop where she meets Leandro (Telly Savalas), who happens to be the spitting image of the Devil in the fresco.

Frightened, Lisa flees, only to get lost on her way back to the main square.  During her wanderings, she runs into Leandro again, this time carrying a life-size puppet of a man - a man she soon meets in the flesh, who calls her Elena and whom she appears to kill during the altercation.

Still lost as night falls, she encounters a wealthy couple, Francis (Eduardo Fajardo) and Sophia Lehar (Sylva Koscina), who offer to give her a ride.  Their chauffeur George (Gabrieli Tinti) warns that the car is about to overheat, and it does just that outside of a remote estate tended by the very same Leandro that continues to pop up everywhere.  The group insists on moving on but, upon seeing Lisa, young Max (Alessio Orano), who lives at the estate with his countess mother (Alida Valli), insists they stay.

The Countess is none too happy, especially since Lisa seems to resemble someone from their past.  Also, Sophia and George are having their own little affair, while Francis pretends not to notice.  All the while, Leandro tends to their needs while making life-size puppets of everyone, especially after they begin to die - George first, with a pair of scissors through his neck, and then about everyone else as things snowball toward the characters finding out the truth about their hosts and their existence.

Lisa and the Devil by all accounts was a major undertaking by director Mario Bava.  Baron Blood had been quite the success on a very small budget, so Bava took the money to make this project, which he had in mind for years.  Unfortunately, times were changing for horror, and despite some early buzz the film was recut before release as The House of Exorcism.  In that version, Lisa becomes possessed after seeing the fresco, vomits everywhere, turns into a naked brunette (who tries to molest a priest) and does all the other normal Linda Blair things.  It was pure exploitation, had its moments, but was even more disjointed than the original.

Seeing the original (which was not released until the 1980s, and even then with some cuts including a graphic (not directed by Bava) sex scene between Sophia and George.  The original version ends with them reflected in the cigarette case, with the only nudity in the film really being Elke Sommer toward the end.  In fact, nudity and violence wise this is rather tame, especially since it followed Baron Blood production-wise.  Still, if you like a stylish horror film, none of that would be missed.

Yes, it is a bit difficult to follow - characters come and go, everything moves with a dreamlike quality - but that was largely the point.  In the end, it is one of Bava's best movies, and it is a shame that most people only knew it in its exploitation garb.

Lisa and the Devil (1973)
Time: 95 minutes
Starring: Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano, Alida Valli
Director: Mario Bava


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