Who loves ya, Beelzebub? Why, Kojak… er, Telly Savalas, of course! The lollypop licking Lucifer shadows lovely Lisa throughout this lesser-known, more unusual of Italian giallo master Mario Bava's oeuvres, which was released in 1973 at the height of the cinematic Satanic panic.
Cool blonde Elke Sommer (Baron Blood) stars as Lisa, lost in an imposing, ancient Spanish city. After seeing a fresco of the devil, she experiences odd encounters with white-gloved weirdo (Savalas) and a crudely made mannequin who comes to life only be killed, she encounters a wealthy couple (Eduardo Fajardo, Sylva Coscina) and their chauffeur (Gabriele Tinti), who pick Lisa up and drive her to her inevitable doom. Their fancy automobile breaks down in front of a decrepit, oh-so-Gothic mansion — where a blind countess (Alida Valli) lives with her mentally muddled (and badly dressed) son, Max (Alessio Orano). And who should be their bald-headed butler? Leandro is all too happy to see Lisa again, and the wicked games begin!
While Lisa & The Devil may not be exactly what I expected from Bava (my faves of his are The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Blood & Black Lace, Danger: Diabolik, Bay of Blood, and Five Dolls for an August Moon), it is well in line with his more gothic and victorian style offerings (especially Black Sunday and Kill, Baby… Kill!). The nudity is nearly non-existent and awfully restrained for an early 70s Italian film. There's not much suspense leading up to the deaths at all, and the blood is very bright barn-paint red.
But never fear, Bava-brains — there is weirdness seeping in each and every set piece: macabre music boxes, disembodied doll heads, a skeletal bride disintegrating in her wedding bed, labyrinthine corridors, surreal dream sequences, corpse-mannequin golems, super-70s styles, luscious locations, grandiose scope, and so much more — overwrought emotion, bizarre blank faces, virtual mustache twirling moments. Savalas is sublime, Sommer is beautiful if a bit bland, and the supporting players are all absolutely nightmare inducing.
Good stuff, overall!
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson