Years ago, Judge Daryl Loomis was rebuilt to take advantage of the success of Seabiscuit.
Our review of The Mario Bava Collection, Volume 2, published November 26th, 2007, is also available.
Every corner of the soul is lost to the icy clutch of the supernatural!
When people point out that film distributors are dumber and more short-sighted today than they were thirty years ago, they only need to look at the case of Lisa and the Devil to understand that there have always been idiots making decisions about movies. This 1973 picture by Mario Bava (Hatchet for the Honeymoon) is a beautiful and strange melodrama starring Elke Sommer (Baron Blood) and Telly Savalas (The Dirty Dozen). Everyone agreed that it was a fine film, but producer Alfredo Leone couldn't find a single buyer to distribute it to audiences.
The following year, with the popularity of The Exorcist and his need to recoup his money, Leone hired veteran actor Robert Alda (Cloak and Dagger), filmed some new scenes without Bava's help, and shoehorned a possession story into what once was a lovely supernatural drama. The resulting film, The House of Exorcism, is an utter abomination on its own and, especially, in comparison to the real movie. Well, guess which version found distribution and became what audiences saw for the next two decades. That's right; the one with the green vomit in it.
Facts of the Case
Lisa and the Devil
The House of Exorcism
Given the choice, which we didn't always have, there's no reason to watch The House of Exorcism over Lisa and the Devil, except for film study reasons. Otherwise, it's an abominable film, not only badly ripping off The Exorcist, both in dialog and action, but tearing apart one of Mario Bava's most interesting dramas. With a returning Elke Sommer and an arriving Robert Alda, the new scenes are as bad as I remember, some of the worst exorcism footage I can imagine, and that includes the horrid performance by Richard Burton in Exorcist II: The Heretic, which is saying something, but the less said about The House of Exorcism, the better.
Lisa and the Devil, on the other hand, is a very effective romantic horror film that doesn't always make sense, but brings itself back up with gorgeous visuals and strong performances from the leads, especially from Telly Savalas, lollypop and all, who is hilarious as the butler/devil. He may not be as menacing as one would like for the character, but he's a wolf in sheep's clothing and is convincing in his speeches, which is all that the character really needs. Elke Sommer is appealing, but is intentionally presented as doll-like, so she doesn't have a terribly strong presence and her sense of fear only exists during a few scant moments. The great Alida Valli is effective as ever in her small, but structurally important role of family matriarch and, while the rest of the performances mirror what you might be used to from Italian horror, they're all fairly strong.
Stronger still is Bava's shooting, which is some of the most artful of his career. In his mind, Lisa and the Devil was, in a certain respect, his ticket out of horror and into art filmmaking like his highfalutin director friends, but it was not to be. That it got distribution nowhere is evidence of its inaccessibility, but that belies a truly quality production. The direction, as is nearly always the case with Bava, is short on story coherence, but lovely in execution, filled with beautiful images and strange twists of time and fate. There is a lot to love about Lisa and the Devil, though it isn't the best film of Bava's career; it's too bad that the film in its original and much different version is something we weren't allowed to see for over two decades. Hopefully, this release will help correct that issue.
Lisa and the Devil and The House of Exorcism are presented by Image Entertainment on one Blu-ray disc, and both are nearly identical, unlike the films themselves. The two transfers, both 1.78:1/1080p, feature strong, bright colors and deep black levels. The cut-ins for The House of Exorcism have a little less detail than the scenes it shares with Lisa and the Devil, but it's pretty solid all around. Both sound PCM 2.0 mono mixes are similar, as well. Neither is awful and neither is great, but both have a minimum of background noise and few pops or crackles.
For extras, we start with commentaries on both films. Lisa and the Devil is voiced by Bava scholar Tim Lucas, who gives his usual cogent and insightful talk about a subject he clearly loves and has long studied. The House of Exorcism is given a commentary with Alfredo Leone and Elke Sommer, which is not nearly as interesting as the former, at least not in the traditional way. Instead of talking about the nuts and bolts of the film or anything like that, Leone spends much of the time defending his terrible film and never apologizing for his abomination. He seems convinced, even after all these years, that recouping his money was more important than delivering any level of quality. I can't really argue with his philosophy; he is a producer, after all, but his insistence on its relative quality is surprising. A twenty minute interview with Bava's son, Lamberto Bava (Demons), is interesting, if not all that relevant to the film at hand, and a bank of trailers round out the disc.
One fine film and one piece of total garbage, all using eighty percent of the same footage. It's amazing how editing and forcing a plot point can dramatically change one's impression of scenes that are found previously enjoyable and interesting. I recommend the disc for Bava fans specifically and to fans of gothic horror in general, but make no mistake that I only endorse Lisa and the Devil. The only reason to watch The House of Exorcism on any level is as a study in the above phenomenon, because it genuinely awful.
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