Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Devil is in the Details: "Lisa and the Devil" (1976)

Also known in a different form as "House of Exorcism," this messy little film takes itself so seriously as to kill any entertainment value whatsoever.

The spare plot involves European tourist Elke Sommer who has a chance run in with Telly Savalas, who looks just like the devil she saw on a fresco in the square. Sommer is given a ride to a mysterious house in the country, where Savalas happens to be butler. There, she is mistaken for a long dead woman, and the real soap opera theatrics begin. The house's blind matriarch's husband had an affair with the dead woman, who was the matriarch's son's fiancee. The couple who gave Sommer the ride? Well, the woman is giving the chauffeur, uh, "back seat driving lessons," and the husband knows and does not care.

Eventually, most of the cast is killed, Sommer is drugged and raped, escapes, and the viewer is taken to a climax on board an empty airplane...which must have resembled the empty theaters this thing played in. The alternate version of this, "House of Exorcism," has scenes added involving a priest.

The VHS copy of this, from Elite Entertainment, is crystal clear and letterboxed. There are "extras" after the end credits; deleted sex and gore scenes.

Mario Bava's direction is fast and furious, but his screenplay is awful. There are half baked ideas, abandoned plotlines, and stunning conveniences that do nothing more than propel this thing in some sort of forward direction. You have life like dummies for practice funerals, the blind matriarch does not act all that blind, and Savalas is given the same lollipops he had in "Kojak," (who haunts ya, baby?).

The project seems like they had two name stars, then wrote the script quickly, something that happens in Hollywood on a daily basis now. Savalas looks completely lost, delivering his lines haltingly, and wishing his character had not died in "The Dirty Dozen." Sommer runs around and screams and gasps a lot, but her character is a blank, I use the term "character" loosely. The only thing we know about her is her name.

This is a real weird film, and your reaction to it might depend on how heavily you are into Eurohorror, and Kojak. I for one cannot recommend "Lisa and the Devil." (* *) out of five stars.

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