By the time the “Master of Italian Horror” got around to 1973’s Lisa and the Devil there was really nothing left to prove. Since 1960’s Black Sunday Mario Bava had crafted numerous classics that would grow to influence not just to the Italian horror genre (particularly giallo) but to the international film world. So it’s interesting to see a filmmaker whose legacy is firmly in place continue to work, and in Lisa and the Devil he weaves a slightly convoluted tale of demons and doppelgängers that – while ultimately not entirely successful – shows a nightmare logic that reminded me of David Lynch. It works here, even when it kind of doesn’t.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: The young, beautiful Lisa is touring Spain with a bus group when she is captivated by a fresco depicting the Devil taking away the dead. She leaves the tour group and gets lost, meeting along the narrow streets a man who suspiciously looks like the aforementioned Devil carrying a mannequin. Soon she is lost, meeting up with a wealthy couple and their chauffeur who offer to drive her back to town, only break down in front of an ominous old mansion. Surprise! The man is there, and he’s the butler to a creepy old blind Mona and a very passionate young man, who entreats them to stay. Bad idea, as Lisa discovers the house and its inhabitants (both visible and otherwise) have deeper, darker secrets that threaten her life. If all of this isn’t creepy enough, the fact that the Devil/butler is played by a lip-smacking Telly Savalas should get you properly freaked…
After loving quite a few of Bava’s works, this one left me a bit cold. It takes a while for things to get moving, and when they do the horrors feel somewhat haphazard and thinly thought out. There’s a whole thing with replacing people with mannequins, ghosts, and trapped demons, which sounds excellent but coming off the heels of films like Baron Blood and the great Bay of Blood/Twitch of the Death Nerve this feels more like a half baked collection of good ideas. Attempts to cash in on The Exorcist with a new framing motif probably didn’t help it either, although that was thankfully absent from the version I watched.
I know there was a point in time where Telly Savalas was not only popular, but considered quite a sex symbol. I don’t know what he’s trying for here: there are nods to his Kojak with lollipop sucking and other weird fourth wall breaks, but it never works and only serves to make the film just a little more tedious to get through. Elke Sommer fares a little better, but I yearn for some better performances in this film.
Not a lot here. if you want some prime Bava I’d go back to the earlier works mentioned here, or even some of his crazy non-horror work like Danger: Diabolik or Planet of the Vampires. As his career winds down Lisa and the Devil is an interesting but ultimately mediocre work.