Lisa and the Devil

March 3, 2014 at 12:25 am (5 Heads, Lisa and the Devil) (, , , , , )

Lisa and the Devil – 1973 – Italy/Spain

An Italian tourist named Lisa gets lost in Toledo, Spain. Wandering the ancient labyrinthine streets, she encounters outlandish and menacing characters. As night falls, she hitches a ride in a wealthy couple’s curiously antiquated car. The car breaks down, forcing Lisa and the couple to stay at a mysterious villa. Residing in the villa is an eccentric blind countess, her childish adult son, and her ominously cheerful butler. Lisa met the butler while lost earlier and is disturbed by the likeness of his face to a fresco of Satan she saw while sightseeing. As the night progresses, the guests enter into a hallucinatory twilight zone. The villa’s sinister history unravels as Lisa dreams of a woman who looks identical to her. The dreams and reality merge as phantoms manifest and people are murdered and replaced with manikins.

Lisa and the Devil’s intentionally hazy narrative jumbles fact and fantasy to surreal and absurd effect. Deducing the plot is an interesting but mostly frustrating puzzle. Is Lisa a reincarnation of a murdered woman or is she possessed by the woman’s spirit? Is the villa a dream or the afterlife? Director Mario Bava’s powerful visual imagination runs rampant, and the result is beautiful and playfully disorienting. Images of clocks, eyes, and candles form motifs that recur frequently enough to be oppressive.

Lisa and the Devil’s dreamy atmosphere is grounded by gothic touches. The villa is magnificently spooky, and full of taxidermies, candelabras, and marble busts. There are also bloody murders aplenty. A victim is stabbed with scissors and another is impaled on a fence. In the most ridiculously graphic death, a man is repeatedly run over by a car, and his body becomes increasingly deformed while rolling around under the tires.

Lisa and the Devil demonstrates style and class, but its lack of coherency is ultimately unsatisfying. Scenes occur for the sake of eeriness rather than narrative development. Expectations are mischievously subverted, but the result can be wearisome. It is difficult to emotionally connect to the film’s world and characters when its events are so arbitrary. Mario Bava is undeniably clever. If only the result was more fun to watch.

Rating: 5/10 Shrunken Heads. At producer Alfredo Leone’s insistence, Lisa and the Devil was released in the U.S. as House of Exorcism to exploit the popularity of The Exorcist (1973). The U.S. version was edited heavily and includes new scenes containing stronger profanity and sexuality. Predictably, Mario Bava hated it.

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