Lisa and the Devil (1974) aka House of Exorcism (sort of)
Dir. and Written by Mario Bava
Starring Elke Sommer, Telly Savalas
A young lady wanders away from a tour in Italy, and ends up at a creepy old mansion owned by a decidedly odd mother/son duo and staffed by a lollipop-sucking butler (Telly Savalas) and his sidekick, a man-sized paper mache doll who sometimes turns into a real man (I’m assuming this isn’t a Calvin & Hobbes thing, probably something more sinister given the title). And that’s just the setup; from there things get much stranger, more complicated, and more murder-y.
You know, Mario Bava is one of those odd directors who never seemed to get better or worse, he was equally likely to make either genuinely classic or seriously shitty movies throughout his whole career. I had actually sort of written him off after the dull PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES last year and the nearly-unwatchable early giallo TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE. But then, I randomly saw BLACK SUNDAY, an iconic black and white class act with just a hint of shocking violence peeking through the cracks in its pristine surface. Wow, who knew the guy who made DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS had that in him? And now we’ve got him creating some sort of surreal ghost story/slasher which is also about the devil somehow?
|Cue Bill Withers... Just the two of us...|
Here, Bava manages to find a near-perfect tone for this strange, uneasy dream, which eschews the obvious horror conventions you might expect. Avoiding the classic shadows and cobwebs of the genre, Bava instead presents a luxurious, ornate world of lugubrious pastels and dreamy, haunting music. There doesn’t appear to be any overt danger here, but there’s a lurking menace in it’s lonely opulence. The doll, the odd behavior of the hosts, the expansive but empty manor, (the ever-increasing body count)… there’s a strong subtle undercurrent that beneath the serene surface, something here is most decidedly not right. But Bava isn’t in any hurry to come out and say exactly what you should be afraid of. Even when the murders start happening, he maintains the dreamy ambivalence of the film’s tone and simply folds the murder and perversity into the mix. The result is a film which feels uneasy and off-kilter in a subtle but effective way, undermining your expectations and managing to feel tense and unhurried at the same time.
|Bill Withers didn't write any songs that would apply here.|
* By the way, Netflix has both versions and is trying to pass them off as separate movies, so don't be fooled.