Lisa and the Devil descents into a surreal gothic nightmare where creepy dolls and the devil dwell.
Lisa and the Devil or Lisa e il diavolo is a surrealistic Italian horror film where illusion and reality collide. Shot in soft coloring the film has a dreamlike atmosphere where sinister things come out to play at night. It’s a story without an explicit explanation, but it’s highly visceral in nature, causing an uneasy feeling of discomfort. Add some scary lifelike mannequins and it’s a nightmare that slowly descents into a night terror.
It’s important to notice that the film is released two times with two versions. One for the European market and the other one for the American market, trying to anticipate the succes of The Exorcist in 1973. So the second version has an exorcism and was released as The House of Exorcism, changing the whole story. This review is about the original film.
Lisa is on vacation in Toledo with her friend. When the tour brings them to a mural painting of the devil carrying people to the underworld, Lisa is distracted by a melody which she follows to a little shop. There she encounters a strange man who eerily resembles the devil in the painting. When she tries to find her way back to the tour, she comes across this man Mr. Leandro once more, and now he is carrying a lifelike real-sized mannequin over his shoulder.
As the evening falls she still is lost and a rich couple in a car picks her up, till the car breaks down near a mansion. Lisa, Francis, Sophia and chauffeur George are invited in by the rich but strange family, the Countess and her son Max, where Mr. Leandro turns out to be the butler. That night Lisa is caught in weird and sinister events, that seem all too familiar but which she can’t explain.
Why you should watch it
This film is focused purely on the dreamlike visuals, creating a surreal and visceral atmosphere. It’s elusive and strange and the story reels you in with its hypnotic tone, music and images. The film is a big mystery, but never fully explained and the ending makes it all the more mysterious.
The mansion and its inhabitants take the viewer and Lisa back to the nineteenth century, with the Victorian ambiance and clothing. The Countess and her son Max are the strangest creatures, but not as half as strange as Leandro and his life-sized mannequins, that can be brought to life, or can they?
These mannequins are very creepy and sometimes it’s even hard to discern the doll version from the real man. It never becomes clear why there are mannequins, what for and how they came to be. The part of these dolls and Leandro are as inexplicable as terrifyingly eerie. The mysterious Carlos resembles a mannequin and Lisa has a strange connection with him.
But it all seems to lead back to the mural painting. It is not an accident Leandro looks like the devil and carries a mannequin on his back. This seems to indicate that the mansion might be purgatory and its inhabitants are trapped ghosts. Luring Lisa and the couple and the chauffeur into their home for yet unknown reasons, which become clearer as the story continues.
The relationships of the strange inhabitants are also reflected by the relation between the married couple Francis and Sophia and chauffeur George. Their relationships are disturbing but dangerous as well and lead to murder. History has a way of repeating itself in this gothic haunted house.
That doesn’t explain the end scene in the plane though, but purgatory is all about torment and uncertainty, isn’t it.
Though it’s a visceral film, the graphic horror isn’t forgotten and there are some brutal deaths with some gore and blood.
The setting, the shots, the music and the mis en scenes are excellent adding to a surreal and spooky atmosphere. The mystery that slowly unfolds but never completely is explained, the dreamlike tone, illusion, reality, past and present all are intertwined resulting in a gothic feverish nightmare Lisa can’t wake up from.
My favorite part
I really like creepy dolls, and these are just the creepiest you’ll ever see in a seventies movie. Sometimes a real man, sometimes a mannequin coming to life and sometimes the dead resembling these creepy lifelike dolls. Although these dolls, dead, undead or alive play an important part of the story, they stay highly mysterious and their origins are never explained nor their purpose. That makes it even more terrifying. They are intriguing as is Leandro. He is played by the infamous Telly Savalas (Kojak) and, as a fun nod, also has a Lolly Pop in his mouth.
Lisa and the Devil might be a confusing watch but for those who love a good surreal ambiguous story, with great shots and camerawork, a gothic setting, creepy dolls and an imaginative atmosphere that reflect the typical seventies horror films, than this is just the movie for you.
Surreal factor: ★★★★★
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Cast and crew
Lisa and the Devil is directed and written by Mario Bava and cowritten by Alfredo Leone. It stars Elke Sommer (Lisa), Telly Savalas (Leandro), Sylvia Koscina (Sophia), Alessio Ornano (Max), Alida Valli (Countess), Gabriele Tinti (George), Eduardo Fajardo (Francis) and Espartaco Santoni (Carlos).
Duration: 91 minutes. Music: Carlo Savina. Cinematography: Cecilio Paniagua. Edited by: Carlo Reali. Produced by: Alfredo Leone. Production company: Euro America Produzioni Cinematografiche, Leone International Film, Roxy Film, Tecisa. Distributed by: Procinor, Allied Artists Pictures.