Lisa And The Devil (1973 France)

“It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream – a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought – a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!”  Mark Twain “Number 44: The Mysterious Stranger.” While I think the horror films of Mario Bava vary tremendously in quality, this one impressed me. His direction was great—very, very artistic.

And, very beautiful. In fact, in a nude scene late in the film, you don’t feel it’s the least bit gratuitous–it’s more like a lovely work of art–even if some of it also involves a weird necrophiliac murderer! Really…you just have to see this one. There is a cosmological-horror here that mirrors Lovecraft, and predates a similar-approach that Lucio Fulci would employ–a kind of ubiquitous-horror that has consumed everything. A place of no-escape. If you’ve ever had a feeling that dream-reality is more concrete than our own, this one is for you. The subconscious runs-riot in most of Bava’s films, and his producer (Alfred Leone) let him do whatever he wanted here. The results are impressive, though the film suffers from a tedious middle. Alas, when it was screened at Cannes in 1973, nobody was offering much for a distribution-deal, so a butchered version went out instead under a different title.

But that’s a long story I can’t be bothered going into here. Lisa (Elke Sommer) is a tourist to a small Spanish village, one which she has become-convinced she has been-to before. She views a Medieval-painting on her entry into the town, which depicts the devil tormenting the souls of the damned. Throughout the film, she encounters a mysterious-man (played by Telly Savalas) who is often seen carrying a mannequin of a mustachioed-man in a suit. Other-times, the dummy seems alive, a real body made of flesh-and-blood, a nice touch of surrealist-cinema. Before-long, Lisa has made her way to an old Spanish Manse populated by a demented aristocratic-family with a butler named Landre who looks-familiar…it’s Mr Savalas again. Is Lisa wrong? Did she see the butler controlling the family members? Did she see the butler breaking the legs of a cadaver to fit it into a coffin (a nod to Lovecraft)?

Has the family’s sole male-heir a fixation (sexually) on the dead? Is this life death-itself? Is Lisa alive? What is this place? What is this life? By the end, you will know, and it will make you despair. This is one creepy flick, one that will haunt you for days, maybe forever. In a way, it’s the last, great Gothic horror film. Very few movies say “death” this many times over, and Lisa & the Devil is a film about the loneliness of the human-condition. Conveying the hell that is solitude, it even has some echoes of Mark Twain’s final novel, “Number 44: The Mysterious Stranger” (written 1890–1910), where the main-character realizes he is a unitary-God, alone in the abyss. Back to this film: the standout performer is Telly Savalas. Occasionally carrying scenes alone and talking to himself, a lesser actor would not be able to make such a natural job of it. Talking to himself simply seems an extension of his eccentric oddness. His scenes with the many mannequins creates pleasingly perverse overtones.

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Comments

  1. The plot to this film sounds intriguing indeed. Excellent review, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My pleasure. 🙂

    Like

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