Maria Bava’s nightmarishly chic art film LISA AND THE DEVIL was considered uncomercial enough to be bastardized into yet another EXORCIST rip-off, unleashed to U.S. drive-ins in the mid 1970s as THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM. Naturally, the two versions have been paired together several times already on DVD, and now Lisa, the Devil and Hawkeye Pierce’s Exorcist father all meet up again for this new Blu-ray edition, courtesy of Kino Lorber.
LISA AND THE DEVIL tells the tale of a beautiful young German tourist (Elke Sommer, BARON BLOOD) who witnesses an unusual mural of the devil (a cartoonish portrait of Telly Savalas with pointed ears) while in Toledo, Spain. She strays from her tour bus and ends up in a dream-like world of nightmarish events and surreal imagery. Her journey takes her to a villa where Savalas (as a lollipop-sucking butler who turns out to be Satan) observes and plays host to night of death and decay. Alida Valli (SUSPIRIA) stars as the eccentric blind lady of the house and Alessio Orano (THE KILLER MUST KILL AGAIN) plays her demented, necrophiliac son. Sylva Koscina, Eduardo Fajardo and Gabriele Tinti are the doomed houseguests.
Bava's film is cluttered with the usual gothic settings, but the story is more convoluted and somewhat poetic as far as horror films are concerned. The Satan character functions as a puppet master for the other characters as they all suffer violent deaths around him (mannequins – a favorite prop of Bava's – are utilized as a kind of metaphor for dead souls). As a highly erotic ghost story displaying relationships between the living and the dead, LISA AND THE DEVIL is fueled by some of Bava's most powerful camera work. The film was very well received at Cannes, but despite this and a distribution offer from AIP (that the producer turned down), the indescribable, slow-paced film was deemed un-sellable and was shelved.
Alas, several years later, new footage was shot, bringing back Sommer as Lisa, and THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM was born. In the new footage, the character has become possessed after her stay at the villa, so new scenes show Sommer spewing green fluid and tiny toads from her swollen mouth, while screaming dialog like "Don't break my balls, priest!" to exorcising Father Michael (Robert Alda, THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS). In the wake of half a dozen other EXORCIST rip-offs, THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM was a huge success and grossed millions.
There’s a terrific HOUSE OF EXORCISM commentary (first heard on the Image Entertainment release of over a decade ago) with Sommer and producer Alfred Leone. While Sommer's comments are limited to five or six fond remembrances, Leone sheds light on the production of both projects, answering questions that have puzzled fans for years. For example, Leone explains that Bava did indeed direct much of the new HOUSE footage (with his son Lamberto as assistant), but didn't have anything to do with the scenes of vulgarity and nudity (these scenes where orchestrated by Leone himself). Bava was very religious and even tried to persuade the actors not to participate in these scenes! As Leone conveys, he had a great relationship with Bava, so comprises were made and after a brief falling out, Bava (who ran out before the film was edited) was satisfied with the outcome and allowed his name back on the credits (it had been credited to "Mickey Lion").
HOUSE might be trash, but its clever use of footage from LISA does not stem from the Jerry Warren school of idiotic inserting. Leone's commentary guides the viewer through how the new story was devised and how they were able to intelligently and coherently blend the footage together (look for a Telly Savalas double which Leone distinguishes by the scar on the back of his bald head). HOUSE contains more gore and nudity that was originally shot for LISA but not used in the final cut of Bava's original.
The quality of the transfers for these two films had already been approved over the original Image Entertainment release when Anchor Bay issued them on their 2007 “The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2” DVD set, but the Blu-ray presentations here offer even more of an improvement. Both versions have been mastered in High Definition 1080p resolution, in a 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio, and look magnificent. As the films, especially LISA as a whole, tend to resemble an artist’s paintings transformed on the screen, the colors are terrific, while detail is vividly sharp and there’s very little in the way of grain, making for all around fantastic HD transfers. The audio for both comes in a 2.0 mono English language track, and matches the quality of the visuals in that it’s serviceable and non-problematic.
Aside from the commentary on HOUSE, there’s a commentary on LISA by Tim Lucas (author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) which first appeared on the 2007 Anchor Bay release. Lucas does a great job essaying Bava’s most personal film, and you’ll definitely learn a lot about its production history. Other extras include two trailers for HOUSE (one a longer and obviously “red band” trailer), a radio spot for HOUSE and an international trailer for LISA. Trailers for other Bava films include HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON, BLACK SUNDAY and BARON BLOOD (a nice-looking new HD rendering of the original AIP trailer). “Bava on Bava: An Interview with Lamberto Bava” (18:15) is a video featurette with the filmmaker and director’s son by Daniel Gouyette. The younger Bava, who often worked as his dad's assistant director, talks extensively about his father’s work and personal life, and he ends up teary-eyed before it’s over. (George R. Reis)
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