Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Lisa and the Devil"(1974)d/Mario Bava

We stop our kaleidoscope of covetousness tonight on a hauntingly surreal lost seventies masterwork by genre-king, Mario Bava; one of his favorite films that he regrettably never lived to see released in its original form, as was his intention.Producer Alfred Leone, desperate to find distribution in the United States after having given Bava free reign to make a non-commercial movie however he liked due to the international success of their prior collaboration,1972's Baron Blood, suggested to the director that they rework the entire film with new profane,sexual material and in essence, rip off the popular American classic, The Exorcist, in the process.Leone's troubled finished product(that Bava eventually walked away from), released as House of Exorcism in 1975, tanked to both critics and fans alike.Thought lost until a print finally surfaced in the 1990's, Bava's original vision, one of his best IMHO, is the film we'll focus on tonight, ending the week here at the Wop.
Lisa has all of the glorious cinematography and stylized directorial flare that made Bava the godfather of Italian genre cinema, bar none.Factor in a stellar ensemble cast that includes Telly Savalas(this review'll have to hold you over until I find a print of Pretty Maids,JM!), Elke Sommer, Syvia Koscina, Gabriele Tinti, and Alida Valli, some creepy atmosphere, a harrowing uneasiness and dream-like unfamiliarity, and it's transparently easy to see what a cult classic you've got on your hands.If this one isn't part of your dvd collection yet, and you're a genre fan that's true to your lollipops, baby, what are you waiting for? It's bonus time!
"Who lugs ya, dummy!" exclaims Leandro(Telly Savalas).
Lisa(Elke Sommer)notices an eccentric bald man carrying life-like mannequins through the cobbled streets of Toledo, while mesmerized by a fresco of the devil(who the man bears a striking resemblance to, mind you) with her tour group, which her guide explains survived through the ages because of a local belief that Satan himself occupies the region.She wanders off from her group to locate the source of some haunting music that catches her ear,and finds herself in an antique shop where the owner is crafting, what else, a mannequin for a customer.Her attempts to buy the responsible music box are thwarted when the owner relates that it belongs to someone already...the customer whose dummy he's working on, who turns around, and yeah, it's him.Spooked, she rushes out into the winding, ominous streets and finds herself completely astray from anything remotely familiar.She asks a few antisocial townsfolk for directions, who affably ignore her.After bumping into the quaint fellow with the dummies again, she's detained by a man who not only believes she is a former lover of his named Elena, he also resembles the mannequin the bald fellow's been lugging around.Frightened, she pushes away from him, sending him down a flight of stairs and rendering him unconscious.Still lost by nightfall, she encounters the Lehars,Francis and Sophia(Fajardo, Koscina) who instruct their chauffeur George(Gabriele Tinti)to give the poor girl a lift.The limousine stalls out in front of a colossal mansion, owned by a blind Contessa(Alida Valli) and her son Maximillian(Alessio Orano).Their butler, Leandro(Savalas) just happens to be the man who's been creeping her out all day.Fancy that.
Francis(Eduardo Fajardo) selflessly lends himself as a human rumble strip.
Max takes a shine to the attractive young tourist, insisting that she and her new friends stay for dinner amidst the Contessa's decries.While Francis showers, Sophia passionately fucks her chauffeur.Meanwhile, Lisa spots the man who harrassed her peering through her window,ending up in Max's arms as she watches Leandro drag the man away...only it's just a mannequin.Things get stranger as the night progresses.Max takes an extra piece of after-dinner cake upstairs to...while the Contessa remarks after feeling Lisa's face,"You shouldn't have come back, now it's too late."A pair of scissors does in George the driver, sending Sophia into hysterics.She, in turn, believes she's avenging his death when she promptly runs her husband over with the car six times, well short of Pasolini's record.A weird love triangle is unfolding between Max, Lisa, and Carlo, the man who insists she is his former flame,and while holding her in a room full of dummies and statues, he is bludgeoned from behind.Sophia witnesses this and flees, only to be fatally thumped by Max.The contessa discovers Carlo in a casket in the chapel, revealing that she was formerly his wife, and that an affair between he and Elena resulted in their subsequent murders.Max takes Lisa to meet Elena, a mummified corpse in bed, while putting her under with a trusty chloroform rag.He tries to lay some surprise sex on her with the corpse in the same bed(!!).It doesn't work out.As Leandro prepares to make Lisa into a new puppet,Max and his mother argue over why he's killed their dinner guests(!),to which he voclaizes his fears that they were going to take his Lisa away,and when she suggests that he ties up the final loose end by getting rid of her as well,he shanks her in the labonza,instead, leading up to a dizzyingly surreal shocker of a nightmare climax...that you'll have to see for yourselves!
"A little lower,you're licking my sacrum." thinks Sophia(Sylvia Koscina).
Savalas' lollipops(which he opted for instead of gumdrops)were a personal touch that he would carry on into his hit television series Kojak afterwards.Also interesting to note, a scene where Leandro breaks both of a corpse's legs at the feet to stuff it into a coffin is a nifty tribute to H.P. Lovecraft.When Alida Valli appeared on the set in purple, it sent Bava into a superstitious fervor, as he believed the color was bad luck, leading to strange complications on the production.For the reworking, scenes with Robert Alda portraying a priest who exorcises demons from Sommer's character were shot afterwards, with his role introduced to the story via flashbacks.The rough language and sexuality that Leone demanded for House ultimately led to Bava setting up the actors and cameras and in protest, leaving them for the producer to shoot.As for Lisa, it's safe to regard the film as one of his true classics; some Bava-ites claim it is his final masterpiece, though I enjoy his later Cani arrabbiati(1974) and Shock(1977) too much to fully agree with anyone who says that.Three wops and a strong recommendation.
Is it technically a threesome if the mummified corpse slumped next to the two of you never participates?Just wonderin'.


Nigel Maskell said...

Ive really got to see this one again! Recently I watched Tristana- another strange and fascinating film and did recognise, almost immediately, a familiarity about the locations- Toledo, those narrow streets through which Savalas wandered with his dummy.

One day when I finally get around to getting a passport it is my wish to visit some film locations - and Toledo has to be on the list somewhere.

beedubelhue said...

You get yourself lost in those cobblestone alleyways and see Telly Savalas in a fresco, don't call MY cellphone, mate!In all seriousness, I love Lisa, great movie by a true master.I'll probably throw House of Exorcism on for comparison this week,too.


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