WTFW: Lisa and The Devil

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

WTFW: Lisa and The Devil

Lisa and the Devil (Italian: Lisa e il diavolo) is a 1974 Italian horror film directed by Mario Bava.  The film is notable for its controversial release in the US, where it was heavily recut/refilmed and released as "The House of Exorcism".  The film was released in Spain as El diablo se lleva a los muertos (The Devil Carries The Dead).

The story involves a young American tourist, who stays the night at the home of a family of Spanish aristocrats whose house is plagued by supernatural evil and dark secrets involving necrophilia.  The US version includes new material that recasts the film as an "Exorcist" clone, with the main character possessed and recounting to the priest who's seeking to save her the story of how she became possessed.


Lisa and the Devil (1973)

  • Original Title: Lisa e il diavolo
  • Genre: Fantasy – Horror – Mystery
  • Directed:
    • Mario Bava (Original Film) 
    • Alfredo Leone (Additional English Footage)
  • Produced:
    • Alfredo Leone 
    • José Gutiérrez Maesso
  • Written:
    • Mario Bava 
    • Alberto Cittini 
    • Alfredo Leone 
    • Giorgio Maulini 
    • Romano Migliorini 
    • Roberto Natale 
    • Francesca Rusishka
  • Starring: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano
  • Music: Carlo Savina
  • Cinematography: Cecilio Paniagua
  • Editing: Carlo Reali
  • Studio:
    • Euro America Produzioni Cinematografiche 
    • Leone International 
    • Roxy Film Tecisa
  • Distributed:
    • Peppercorn-Wormser Film Enterprises  
    • International Film Distributors  
    • Allied Artists
  • Rated:
  • Release Date:
    • 2 April 1975 (Italy) 
    • 9 July 1976 (USA)
  • Running Time:
    • 95 minutes (Original) 
    • 92 minutes (Edited English Version)
  • Country:
    • Italy 
    • Spain 
    • West Germany
  • Language: Italian

Tourist Lisa Rainer (Elke Sommer) wanders away from her tour group in Toledo to go shopping inside a store, where she encounters a man named Leandro (Telly Savalas), who is purchasing a dummy and a carousel Lisa attempts to buy.  Due to his resemblance to the portrait of the devil in a fresco she has just seen, Lisa flees, only to be confronted by a mustachioed gentlemen who falls from a flight of stairs to his apparent death.

When she is unable to find the tour group again, she takes refuge with a couple and their chauffeur, who agree to help Lisa get to her hotel.  But their car breaks down in front of a crumbling mansion, where Lisa discovers Leandro works as the butler.  The couple (a young woman and older man) try to convince Leandro to let them stay while the chauffeur (who is having an affair with the young wife) fixes the car.  Lisa attempts to flee, but the countess's son Maximilian (Alessio Orano) stops Lisa and agrees to let the three stay over the objections of his mother, a blind Countess (Alida Valli).

The strange mustachioed man continues to stalk Lisa as further mysteries unfold: the Countess and her son have a fourth guest in the mansion, a mysterious figure who is held prisoner inside a secret room.  The Countess, Maximilian, Leandro, and the mustachioed man (revealed to be Carlos, the Countess's second husband) claim that Lisa is really "Elena," the long-lost girlfriend of Maximilian whom his jealous mother drove away.

Through a series of waking dreams, it is revealed that Elena was secretly sleeping with Carlos and that he was plotting to leave the jealous and reclusive Countess.  After seeing Leandro preparing Carlos's body for burial juxtaposed with Carlos being alive, Lisa freaks out.  Carlos attempts one last time to whisk Lisa away, but Maximilian kills him.  Lisa faints as Carlos' body morphs into the dummy Leandro purchased in the store.  Leandro repairs the dummy (whose face has caved in, in the aftermath of the murder attempt).

The Chauffeur is promptly killed by a mysterious figure after fixing the car.  Leandro offers to cover up the crime to his employers so long as they let him dispose of the body.  When the husband demands his wife leave with him, she runs over him, only to be brutally murdered by Maximilian.

While Lisa is unconscious, Leandro dresses her like Elena.  He gives a speech about how he is a demon that is indebted to the Countess and her son.  The mansion is cursed and the Countess, her son, the couple, their driver, and Elena are forced to relive their deaths again and again, with dummies being procured by the demon to represent the players as they repeat the cycle of death.  Lisa's arrival ultimately negated his inability to find a Lisa dummy to represent her in this latest incarnation.

Lisa wakes up and finds the Countess, who has discovered the young wife's corpse.  Lisa intends to escape, but a defeated and browbeaten Maximilian has started to believe that Lisa is just like Elena.  He takes her to his secret room, where Elena's corpse and ghost are revealed to be the mystery prisoner.  Maximilian drugs Lisa, strips her naked and rapes her, only to have the ghost of Elena laugh at him mid-rape and cause him to stop.  Furious, he goes downstairs and confesses his crimes to his mother, who wants him to kill Lisa to keep anyone from finding out what he has done.

Maximilian reveals to his mother his crimes: having murdered his stepfather to avenge his betrayal of the Countess and his stepson, Maximilian then imprisoned Elena rather than risk allowing her to leave and inform the police. Maximilian kills his mother when he realizes that she will never let him leave her or allow him to have a relationship with Lisa.

After doing so, Maximilian is shocked to find all of his victims (the married couple, their driver, Elena, and his mother) waiting for him at a table.  As his mother attempts to kill him, Maximilian jumps from a window but is impaled on the metal fence below.  Leandro reveals himself behind the corpses making their appearance and says that Maximilian "accidentally slipped."

Lisa wakes up the next morning, naked, with the mansion in ruins.  She finds the dummy representing Maximilian, begging her to stay.  Later in town, she runs into Leandro, who is presented with a "Elena" doll by the shop keeper.  Leandro refuses the doll as Lisa boards her plane, intending to leave Italy.  The entire plane turns out to be empty.  She discovers the corpse of the men and women she met the previous night.  Rushing to find the pilot, she discovers him to be Leandro.  Lisa collapses, reverting to a dummy, as it is implied that Lisa was some form of reincarnation/dummy doppelganger of Elena and that Leandro has reclaimed her.

In the late 1960s, a string of commercial film failures resulted in Mario Bava losing his coveted American distribution deal with American International Pictures and sent the director's career into a downward spiral, that ended with the success of his 1971 film Twitch of the Death Nerve.  As such, Bava entered into the production of Lisa and the Devil with renewed confidence in his freedom to produce films without much studio interference.

Film producer Alfredo Leone, who had worked with Bava on his previous film Baron Blood, gave Bava free rein making of Lisa and the Devil and allowed the director to create a film that was very much non-commercial fare. Unfortunately, when it was released in Italy, the film was a commercial flop.  Furthermore, when Leone took the movie to the Cannes Film Festival, U.S. film distributors turned down offers to release it in the US.

In a desperate attempt to get the film released internationally, Alfredo Leone convinced a reluctant Mario Bava that they should revamp the entire film as an Exorcist clone, in order to cash in on the popularity of that film, complete with new footage being shot of an exorcism involving Elke Sommer and Robert Alda, who was cast as a priest in the new footage.  The film itself was then heavily cut, removing over twenty minutes of footage (including the film's ending) and having the remaining footage edited into the new footage as an extended flashback sequence that Sommer's character tells Alda's character.

Leone clashed with Bava over the new footage shot of Alda and Sommer; Leone wanted profanity and strong sexuality in the new footage, something Bava refused to do.  At first, he would set up the scenes and then leave the set so that Leone could direct the actors; later he tried to convince Elke Sommer not to act in these scenes, and eventually he left the film altogether.  As such, the finished film's direction was credited to Mickey Lion.

The House of Exorcism was released in the United States in 1975, where it was a critical and commercial failure. Leone's plan to try and exploit the popularity of The Exorcist backfired, as many critics and viewers denounced the film as merely a blatant rip-off of The Exorcist.

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