Now you are lost and all alone, but this isn’t by mistake, he has chosen you and you are in his world now, for he is your only guide. You might as well make the best of it and try to look forward to what’s in store….. Surely bizarre and exciting adventures must lie ahead….. I’d also feel flattered if I were you, since it’s likely he thought you the fairest and prettiest of the bunch.
What has just been narrated to you is my interpretation of the set up to a high-body-count Gothic thriller from Mario Bava called LISA AND THE DEVIL, a visual feast from a cinematographic master that is full of memorable sequences that uncontrollably pummel the viewer with some of the greatest “Oh my God!” moments, ever. Allow me to attempt to manifest in words why this film kicks much ass, without giving too much away.
The plot concerns a dreamy and fascinating encounter between the character of Lisa, played by Elke Sommer, and Leandro, better known as the Devil, played with much enthusiasm by Telly Savalas, whose role makes for about 60% of the entertainment. By a Contessa’s orders, Leandro slaves as a butler in a mansion hauling around, fixing, and positioning mannequins of characters like puppets in a play while comically cursing tedious tradition, much to the viewer’s amusement. Caught in the middle of this nonsensical dark passion play is the blond haired Lisa, whose green school teacher outfit with matching green shoes, convincing screams, beauty, eloquence, and vulnerability make for a great lead, who I enjoyed spending the whole movie with from beginning to end.
|"Tradition she says.... More work I say!"-- Leandro/Telly Savalas|
After being lost in what feels like purgatory for a while, a little more depth is added to Lisa’s situation when night falls and an antique car rolls up carrying a few more characters, among them a chauffeur played by Gabrielle Tinti. In desperate need of help and company, Lisa hitches a ride only to break down a few minutes later in front of a Gothic villa where all too coincidentally they are welcomed by a butler (Savalas), who happens to be the same man Lisa came across earlier in town, to her somewhat surprise. The prospect of a broken down vehicle in front of a mansion may sound cliché, but trust me in saying that you’ve never seen anything like this before.
For mysterious reasons, a handsome young man, Maximilian played by Alessio Orano (a role turned down by Anthony Perkins), appears out of the shadows and emotionally insists that Lisa and her party stay, against his mother’s wishes, the Contessa played by Alida Vali. Maximilian has a weird and eccentric behavior that is somewhat linked to a twisted mother complex and his reason for wanting Lisa to stay at the mansion sort of becomes both clearer and more mysterious as the film carries on. Mario Bava’s Norman Bates, superficially has a charming and warm personality that masks his immature stubbornness and determination to have everything his way, everything he wants, and everything the way it was in a long gone past.
Further adding to the allure of the film is the beautiful and superbly Gothic mansion, which naturally lends an added creepiness with its antique and authentic interior design, and serves as the main backdrop to several intriguing sequences. A particularly vintage element from the film is felt when Maximilian burns a picture of his past lover while some very moving, almost KARATE KID 2 moving, music makes for a feeling of such genuine melodrama that one can’t help but proclaim “they don’t make them like this anymore”.
A stand out scene worth mentioning, my favorite scene, is when after we have established a good sense of claustrophobia from the nighttime mansion setting, Lisa is staring at the music box she’s been drawn to and under a hypnotic spell is magically whisked away into a day lighted dream world, running in slow motion, amongst beautiful green hills, lovely music, and a Romanesque gazebo. The mystery is intensified as she comes across a supposed lover, Carlos (Espartaco Santoni), who addresses her as Elena. It’s as if she is now living the life of someone else, someone from the past whose relation to the present horror is all too mysterious but significant.
After the first character turns up dead from being murdered in “whodunit” fashion, there is an impromptu funeral procession that takes place in the mansion that is full of emotion and black humor that had me grinning and feeling sad as well. This was similar to what I felt during the impromptu memorial segment in Jess Franco’s A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD.
|It was Professor Plum with the candlestick in the room with the creepy heads.|
LATD contains a convoluted story with intriguing events that happen without rhyme or reason, but it can still be a great viewing experience if you try not to think about it too hard. Let Bava guide you through this fascinating journey to a great ending that will leave you with a wide grin on your face and shouting BRAVISSIMO! The feel of the film is beautiful, classy, and dreamlike, but it also has a ruder side consisting of some very satisfying kill scenes and horror surprises that continually come back, up until the very end.
I got my copy of LISA AND THE DEVIL in the Mario Bava box set that came with an alternately cut and edited version with completely new scenes directed by producer Alfredo Leone, for distributive purposes and to cash in on THE EXORCIST, called THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM, which I can’t bring myself to watch. I enjoyed and appreciated Mario Bava’s original film LISA AND THE DEVIL so much that I just couldn’t accept it in any other form. But…. Maybe I’ll watch it if anyone wants to convince me to do so.