Lisa and the Devil may star Telly Salvalas and Elke Sommer in name, but the real main character is Mario Bava’s direction. I’ve never seen a camera so unwilling to be still, outside of the much maligned shaky-cam genre of recent years. Lisa (Sommer) gets lost while a tourist in a large European city. The camera goes madly from soft focus to hard repeatedly as she looks for a way back to her traveling companion in the main plaza; “everything is okay,” says the soft lens. “Wait, no, she’s totally fucked,” says the hard focus. We get the low angle shot to make us feel her confusion. She is framed in doorway after doorway, archways, even shadows of archways and they all tell us she’s important and that she’s making a transition. Into hell!
Finally rescued, it seems, by a traveling couple (Sylva Koscina, Eduardo Fajardo) and their chauffeur (Gabriele Tinti), she ends up stranded with them and their crap car at an old mansion. Salvalas is the butler there and now it is he who will be framed in doorways. He is the one who is important, in control. The characters walk over a bridge from the main house to a cottage and the camera moves quickly from a long shot, drawing our attention to the actors, to an extreme long shot, emphasing a marble structure with columns and a statue. This was the meeting place for Lisa’s former incarnation, Elena, and her lover/father-in-law, Carlo.
Oh, did I not tell you about Carlo? Old Carlo (Espartaco Santoni), when we first meet him, is a mannequin in the shop in town where Lisa first meets Salavas/Satan. Then he’s a dead guy being dragged around by the Devil, then a mannequin again, and finally he confronts Lisa. Lisa who is happily in soft focus again after the Devil points her way back to the plaza. A return which is interrupted by Carlo’s insistence that she is his old lover, a brief struggle as he grabs her and she tries to free herself, and then his subsequent fall down a flight of stairs to his apparent death.
But back to the mansion. The inhabitants, a countess (Alida Valli) and her son (Alessio Orano), recognize Lisa as well. The other travelers are clueless, especially since they are wrapped up in their own love triangle. Oh well, they’ll soon be dead, beginning with the chauffeur, who we are shown as a soft focus bloody corpse. But I thought soft focus meant everything was cool! Well. It seems Carlo was the countess’s husband, and he had an affair with Elena, who was the son’s wife. And like you do after you’ve had a cheating husband, the lady of the house takes it upon herself to stab the chauffeur to death with a pair of scissors. Obviously he had it coming (tee hee) because he’s banging his employer’s wife.
The original Elena is dead in the bed upstairs, and yet she is Lisa. Doesn’t make much sense, but we know her dead ass loves cake. The young man of the house leaves the travelers and his mother at dinner to go take her a piece. “It’s with chocolate sprinkles,” the Devil/butler tells him as he dishes it up in perhaps the creepiest discussion of chocolate sprinkles in human history. The Devil has a lot to say. He tells Lisa, “I find that invariably, Miss Lisa, there’s a very simple explanation for almost everything. Don’t you agree?” Is he in the same movie I just watched?
After a long night of mannequins and murder, Lisa wakes up naked in the ruins of the mansion. She thinks she has escaped her experience til she tries to go home on the biggest fucking airplane ever. There are lots of seats, but only eight passengers. She finds everyone from the mansion there, dead, herself dead as well, and Telly Salvalas as our captain. The end.
All I can figure is that Lisa did break up her in-laws’ marriage in a previous life and now she has to pay. None of the other people in the film look like they are from the 70s, and the couple and their chauffeur even drive a car that is obviously pre-WWII. So I’m thinking she went back to their time, played out the drama with them, and then the Devil took her on a plane ride. But who am I kidding. This movie is beautiful, sumptuous even, and extremely unsettling, but it completely defies explanation, other than that everyone dies but the Devil. Welcome once again, my friends, to the Italian horror movie.