Lisa Reiner (Elke Sommer) is on a trip to Italy, when on a tour, she sees a fresco painted on a wall. The tour guide tells her that it’s a scene of the Devil, and that locals say it’s stayed so fresh in appearance over the years because of his power. Splitting off from the group, Lisa wanders off and comes to a little shop, where the shopkeeper has built a mannequin for a customer named Leandro (Telly Savalas), who just happens to look exactly like the Devil as he is depicted in the fresco. Lisa becomes frighted and leaves the shop, only to become lost. eventually, she gets a ride with a rich couple and their chauffeur. Unfortunately, their radiator hose springs a leak, right in front of local manor, owned by a blind countess and her son. Can you guess who their butler is? That’s right. It’s Leandro. As Lisa becomes more and more terrified, and people start dying, she wants desperately to escape, but can she?
This film was originally released as Lisa and the Devil. Later, after some distributors balked at its strange content, some new footage was added and the film was re-edited and eventually released as The House of Exorcism. Robert Alda was enlisted to play a priest who tries to help Lisa after she becomes possessed. But more about that in a moment.
While the two films share footage, they are essentially two separate films. Lisa and the Devil plays out like you’re watching someone’s nightmare. She seems to literally be caught in a nightmare she can’t get out of. The film can be a bit confusing until you really understand what it is and what director Mario Bava was going for here. Once you gain that understanding, the brilliance of how the film plays out becomes apparent. However, it’s not spoon fed to you, and therein lies the problems that some of the distributors had with it. I guess they felt like that "lost in a nightmare" thing wasn’t simple enough for some audiences to understand, and therefore, The House of Exorcism was created.
The House of Exorcism really does spoon feed you the story, and changes it a bit. Lisa and the Devil may play like a nightmare, but it’s all too real. In The House of Exorcism, Lisa is possessed by a demon, or by the Devil himself, and her soul is sent to Hell, where she experiences all these things, while the priest, Father Michael (Robert Alda), is back in the real world trying to drive the demon out of Lisa. This creates a nice little neat package, explaining everything and why it’s happening, but there’s a problem with that. The problem is, the possession scenes rip off a LOT from The Exorcist, right down to the green vomit on the priest. To her credit, Elke Sommer did a good job of playing the possessed Lisa, but the rip off from The Exorcist was so blatant that it really takes a lot of the enjoyment out of it.
Personally, between the two, I preferred Lisa and the Devil far more, because it actually makes you think. It keeps your brain working while you’re watching, trying to figure out what’s going on, rather than just handing you all the answers. The nightmarish feel of it is also far preferable to the other film, where they keep breaking out of the nightmare to show the possessed Lisa in the hospital with the priest.
The shining star in both films had to be Telly Savalas. With his signature lollypop, he cruised through the films coming off as cool, and somewhat likeable, but also seemed somewhat insane. About how you’d picture him being in a nightmare. It was a very strange role, but he made it more than it was. He made it special and different. I’m not sure anyone else could have pulled that off with such awesome style. He was a great choice to play this part.
Between the two, Lisa and the Devil is the far superior film in terms of feel, but fortunately, on this new release from Kino Lorber, you get both films, so you can see and experience both and decide which one you like better.
Both films in this release were mastered in HD from the 35mm negatives. The quality, as a result, is very good. It also includes audio commentary from Tim Lucas on Lisa and the Devil, and commentary on The House of Exorcism from Elke Sommer and the film’s producer, Alfredo Leone. There’s also an interview with Lamberto Bava, trailers for other Mario Bava films, and a House of Exorcism radio spot.
If you like nightmarish stories, then Lisa and the Devil is a good one to check out. It can be rather slow at times, but in the end it’ll leave you creeped out and satisfied.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Kino Lorber website here, and if you’d like to get a copy of the DVD or blu-ray, you can get them from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.