Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lisa & The Devil/ House Of Exorcism

A bunch of Mario Bava movies popped up on Netflix just in time for my favorite holiday. Sweet. A record of my pre-Halloween Mario-thon so far:

LISA AND THE DEVIL Directed by Mario Bava. Starring Telly Savalas and Elke Sommer (1974).
    I usually like the way Bava movies look. In this one the colors are intensely saturated. There's plenty of soft focus and fog. Bright primary colors are striking when they show up. Simple things like crumbling European alleyways, melted candles, and antique toys look truly beautiful. Mario Bava certainly had style. Eyes are a running theme throughout the movie. People spend a lot of time giving each other meaningful looks.
     The story is vague and a little dull. Lisa sees a fresco depicting the devil carrying off the dead. Shopping for antiques, she encounters a man (Telly Savalas) who looks just like the devil as depicted in the painting. Spooky events lead her to a palatial estate with a group of strangers... including the lollipop-sucking butler, who is also Telly Savalas. The place is home to a stern matron and her charming son, who immediately has the hots for Lisa.
Who Loves Ya Satan!
    Weird stuff goes on at the estate. Mysterious agendas, possible past lives, and murder are sprinkled throughout but it never really gels into much of anything except a really crap vacation for Lisa. There's a guy stalking her who keeps being dead then not dead and then dead and not dead again. Other times, he's a doll. Yes, it's a little confusing. We're not quite sure why anyone is doing... whatever it is they are doing.
    The devil sure seems to enjoy messing with Lisa's head. How much of this is real and how much is some illusion or hallucination? Over an hour in, I still don't really know what this movie is about. It all seems kind of random.
    Eventually, all the visitors to the estate get picked off except Lisa. It turns out the young man of the house is a bit of a psycho. And he seemed so nice! A fairly grody necro-drug-rape threesome ensues. It's not even close to "Nekromantik" weird or anything, but it's probably the only really disturbing part of the movie. There are some very stylish, surreal scenes that sneak up on you, like the victims all arrayed at the dinner table, or when Lisa wakes up to find herself in a bedroom overgrown with wild plants. Eventually she manages to get the hell out of there and hops a plane back home, but she can never escape the devil... the movie is over and I'm not totally sure what it was all supposed to mean. I mean, I get it... the devil is escorting souls to hell, just like in the fresco at the beginning... but it's a weak ending and it doesn't really explain why the events of the movie happened instead of some completely different series of bizarre events. Expression of profound Kafka-esque nihilism or just plain silly?
I for one am shock and appalled!

    When "Lisa and the Devil" flopped, Bava was pushed into reworking it into a rip-off of "The Exorcist". There's even a pea-soup vomit scene. "House of Exorcism" is a different movie made with the footage from "Lisa and the Devil" with the demon-possession bit filmed later and added in.
    In the new story, Lisa comes down with a serious case of possession while on vacation and ends up in a hospital. The doctors think she's just crazy, a priest thinks she has some sort of chronic inflammation of the soul. When she starts telekinetically flinging things around, it's clear who made the correct diagnosis. Most of the first movie gets recycled in a slightly condensed form as a series of extended flashbacks. Satan's got a serious potty mouth and the body of a contortionist, of course, but it never gets quite as raunchy as "The Exorcist". Some of the possessed dialogue is pretty funny:
    "Where did you come from?"
    "From a cunt, you jerk!"
    I had a lot more fun watching this one, partly because it's so much trashier and more lurid than "Lisa and the Devil". Adding the demon-possession storyline actually gives some structure to a previously rather shapeless plot. There's less lingering on images and more story to tell so things move along at a faster pace. The downside is that some of the most visually striking parts of the film aren't there. As goofy as the ending is in the original version, it's still probably a better ending than the extra-weak "exorcism" of the evil house that we finish up with here. On balance watch this one if you're going to watch either one, but there's better Mario Bava fare out there.
Reviewed by Goat Scrote
Both are available on Netflix

Get thee back Campbell's chunky pea soup!
Another doll beat me up on the Twilight Zone

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