Lisa and the Devil (Mario Bava / Italy-Spain-West Germany, 1973):
(La Casa dell'esorcismo; House of Exorcism)

Lisa (Elke Sommer) is a tourist wandering a Spanish villa's streets, the Devil is the figure with beret and puff of smoke standing in the antique shop, turning around to reveal the same face (Telly Savalas) she saw adorning a sinister medieval fresco. In Mario Bava's spiraling "tall-tale of gloom and tradition," even the act of boarding a car triggers an unsettling lighting effect -- headlights become a lustrous sun in the blue darkness, the heroine runs toward them and melts into the glow. The wealthy couple (Sylvia Koscina, Eduardo Fajardo) and their chauffeur (Gabriele Tinti) find themselves stranded with Sommer in a manse riddled with "the smell of death"; Alida Valli as the blind Contessa educes the D'Annunzio flavor, Savalas as the butler humming "Say It with Flowers" while cramming a too-tall cadaver into a casket completes the image. The Contessa's son (Alessio Orano) is a necrophilic brooder with a bedroom that accommodates both an enchanted garden and the maggoty mummy from Psycho, and who sees the comely visitor as the reincarnation of his former love. For her part, Sommer gazes at a music-box and launches into a soft-focus reverie about past lives, until the Reaper materializes amid the figurines and one of Savalas' mannequins peeps through the window, looking oddly fleshy. "There is a very simple explanation for virtually anything," the butler says, mocking the Byzantine elusiveness of his own hallucinatory panoply of statues, flowers, skulls, and handless clocks. The Bava art on full display, voluptuous and oneiric, akin to Chabrol's Ten Days' Wonder and Roeg's Don't Look Now and even able to endure sabotage: The Exorcist's box-office records had the producer vandalizing the footage, but what survives now is the director's sublime mise en scène at the service of the bald trickster sitting on its haunches and tremendously savoring the human follia. With Espartaco Santoni, and Kathy Leone.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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