After watching Five Dolls for an August Moon, a previous Mario Bava directed attempt, I asked myself, ďDid Mario lose his sanity in the 70s?Ē. After viewing Lisa and the Devil, I again asked that same question, but with different wording. ďDid Mario eat some bad shrooms or what?Ē. I seriously did not understand it. The photography was still Bavaís, but the plots and scripts were starting to become, oddly, limp. And then I understood. These were his intentions! He wanted dreamlike and likeably incomprehensible. These were works of art ahead of their time. The colors, the atmosphere, the real depth of it all. There was just as much story as his 60s' ensemble, but you had to dig and dig for it, almost to the point of exhaustion. I suppose, that could make the director someone considerably nuts for creating such a collage, but strangely intelligent too, in his own way.
Lisa Reiner (Elke Sommer) is touring through Europe, and stops in an ancient city. Taking a walking tour with her friend (Kathy Leone), the tour guide points out a fresco on the wall of a building. It depicts Satan, the Devil, taking bodies off to his Hellish lair. It is said that the only reason the fresco has been unharmed is because the Devil himself is nearby, watching. Lisa instantly feels intrigued by the painting. She hears music coming from somewhere, and goes out looking for it. What she finds is an antique shop, where Leandro (Telly Savalas), a customer, is purchasing a mannequin. Lisa feels a connection between Leandro and the Devil from the fresco. Spooked by the resemblance, Lisa runs out of the shop.
Trying to find her way back to her tour group, Lisa stumbles upon Carlo (Espartaco Santoni), who shouts in happiness once he sees her. He thinks that she is his lover, but Lisa has never seen him before in her life. And he looks freakishly identical to the mannequin that Leandro had bought at the store. Scared, Lisa pushes Carlo down some stairs, and runs off. By evening, Lisa still cannot find her tour group, and is forced to pickup a ride. Couple Sophia (Sylva Koscina) and Francis Lehar (Eduardo Fajardo) give Lisa a lift in their car, which is being driven by George (Gabriele Tinti), their chauffeur. The car halts in front of a mansion, and the group has no choice but to ask the owners to stay the night. Unlucky for Lisa, the butler is the creepy looking Leandro. Perhaps, Lisaís just being superstitious. Maybe Leandro isnít bad at all.
The mansion actually belongs to a Countess (Alida Valli) and her son Max (Alessio Orano). It is obvious that Max has a crush on Lisa, and he tries to get his mother to allow the group to stay. The Countess accepts, and the four visitors stay in a cottage. It is soon revealed that George and Sophia are having an affair, and Francis knows! Lisa is then frightened by Carlo, who stares at her through her bathroom window. When Lisa calls out for help, Max explains that it was only the mannequin that Leandro was carrying. However, Lisa does not buy this. Max then walks upstairs to a secret room, and rants at an unknown individual. The Countess knows that this mysterious person is in the house, and she does not like it one bit. After an argument with her husband, Sophia finds George dead in the car; his neck all bloody from scissor stabs. The guests are shocked, but believe the murderous storm has passed. It hasnít. It has only just begun, and for most of them, blood will be spilled! Someone has a thing for Lisa, and theyíre taking their obsession way too far!
You do not know how hard it was to write that summary. Lisa and the Devil is not only confusing, itís downright hallucinatory! Itís a bloody body count feature with more questions than answers. The acting from trademark, lollipop-sucking Telly Savalas and Elke Sommer is what should matter the most, and they are both on cue with their performances. Alessio Orano, however, is almost unbearable. Itís as if heís acting on stage, and boy, does he ever overact. The reactions these characters have to their surroundings are unthinkable. Like many giallo, people get over deaths pretty quickly. In one scene where Sophia is mourning the death of George, she cries, then stops, then cries again, then stops again, all while he is being pushed in a sort of baby carriage. Itís morbidly funny. In another scene, a man runs into Lisa, saying ďI heard you scream,Ē but she had barely gasped. This film basically has a million ideas, and only one thousand outlets.
The best parts of the film definitely involve the photography. Scenes where Lisa is walking around in the green, almost glowing woods are fun to admire. She wakes up in a bed, and all around her, there are vines, leaves, and flowers. Itís quite a sight to see. Breathtaking. As Iíve said, colors are Bavaís strong points, and each character wears their personal best outstanding outfits. Thereís also Marioís sense of comedy sprinkled throughout, like when Leandro speaks to a stuffed rabbit. ďHello Mr. Rabbit, or are you Mr. Hare?Ē Silly, but satisfying. All of these things are good to have. They detract from the huge mind-boggling thatís afoot. Some will understand the story, and some will be completely turned off by the random acts of dialogue, action, and questioning ending. The saving grace is the beauty, both of landscape, and the younger actors. Elke is supposed to be desirable and attractive, and that, she is.
The reasons for the murders at the mansion are not very well planned. They work, but just barely. The title Lisa and the Devil is fitting, and I really do wonder whether or not Leandro is, indeed Satan. More atmosphere surrounds the walls of the house, with floral designs, and stained wallpaper. Itís humongous! The mannequins, or dummies if youíd like to call them, are great spook additions. Sadly, the film isnít shocking, and youíre never tense. Anchor Bay released this as a part of the Mario Bava Box Set Volume Two. It includes a trailer, a commentary, and even the re-cut, The Exorcist rip-off, mid-70s version of the film, The House of Exorcism. I have been warned not to venture into that apparent mess.Lisa and the Devil is not nearly the great Bava production itís often made out to be, and only the scenery is truly amazing. If you turn off your logic, and just go for the visuals, youíll have a wonderful time. Plus, owning one of the best looking Italian horror films is a Ďno lossí situation. Buy it!