Lisa & The Devil [1973] // Mario Bava [Thoughts and spoilers]

Image result for lisa and the devil

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Director: Mario Bava

Starring: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Alessio Orano

Plot: a young tourist finds out how quiet some areas of Spanish towns can be before ending up at an anachronistic villa where Bava feeds her LSD and says don’t think, just go with it.

Subplot: Telly Savalas tries to quit smoking by sucking lollipops

Thoughts:

I watched this film online, bookended by two guys saying how tricky the plot was to follow. Perhaps because of this prior warning, it wasn’t. I understood what happened in the film. I just didn’t always understand the background details. Or which country Lisa was supposed to be from.

Ja, I’m not sure what exactly the director was trying to say [that past sins will come back to haunt your reincarnated soul?] or how many times the main story had played out already. Let’s go through it:

The plot establishes early on that she’s wandered into a drama from a century earlier, but there is also the implication that the first murder of Carlos had happened previously to that as the original version of the main character was a skeleton on a bed. And some of the characters talk about both Lisa and Carlos coming back, suggesting that the story has happened once before. And Carlos is, at one point, alive and dead at the same time.

Is that accurate?

But then the location doesn’t make much sense as, near the start of the film, Carlos appears on the steps of the town and dies after being pushed down to the bottom [by her]. The rest of the time he’s at the villa. Was the stairs murder a real event or just an hallucination?

And is Telly Savalas actually the devil?

Or is the title merely talking about a figurative devil inside her brain [her ID? Reincarnated guilt?] that pulls her back to the villa?

My gut says that Telly is the devil as he doesn’t seem to play any direct role in the drama. He performs the role of the butler and seems to know exactly what’s going on at all times. He also drags Carlos’ dead body around, and makes mannequins of the others [everyone dies!], a clear symbol of a guy directing a play, and not hiring anyone else to do anything. The devil is nothing if not hard-working.

You could also say that it’s a sympathetic portrayal of the devil…a Satanist reading of the bible where Satan liberates humans from God’s national park and offers them chances to make their own way, which they invariably never take, instead wandering back into the arms of the god who never wanted them to know anything in the first place.

Now that I think of it, Savalas does more than that…he actually tells the husband of the cheating wife to leave quickly, but he doesn’t, he hangs around a little longer, just long enough to piss off his wife while he walks in front of a car with the engine on and her in the killing seat. Maybe he wanted to die? Maybe as it had already happened, he had no choice.

Telly isn’t a bad guy in this at all, he’s an independent observer just like the devil, just like God. If either of them were actually real. Why do horror directors have such a fascination with religious themes? It always feels a bit one-dimensional, at best two. The Devil can sometimes be shown to have a bit of menace as well as a bit of mischievousness, but he’s usually consistently evil throughout the film he’s in. I’ve never seen the tv show Lucifer, maybe that makes him more rounded. But also anthropomorphic. Where’s the portrayal of the eternal entity who checks in and out of humanity like a bored-…

I’m not sure what I’m writing.

I don’t believe in the devil, or God, any of them, but if I wrote a story with the devil in it I’d probably make them an alien. Is Q from Star Trek the devil? Never thought of that before, but most of his behaviour would qualify. He’s occasionally cold, responsible for people dying, capricious, flirty, easily bored etc.

Telly’s devil sucks a lollipop a lot in this film, that’s quite whimsical, definitely something Q might’ve done. And the way he plays the role of the butler, going along with the façade for no real reason, is not that different from when Q pretended to be the Sheriff of Nottingham in Season 4.

Mario Bava was probably a Satanist.

I’ll do some research on it when I get back home, maybe it’ll have some reference to it on wiki. But if he was a Satanist, wouldn’t he have made the devil character more melancholy? Savalas didn’t exactly get off on all the murdering, but he didn’t feel particularly sad about it either. He was there, he was present, but he didn’t seem connected to the characters emotionally. I’m no expert, but a Satanist would probably sketch a warmer devil, at least towards the human characters they related to i.e. Lisa?

Or maybe Bava knew that and steered in a more objective direction, showing the coldness of the devil, the sometime jovial, sometime tired butler dragging dead Carlos back to his fucking coffin again. If you’d been watching humans make the same mistakes for eons then you’d be tired of it too.

What else?

The 70’s aesthetic is great, the sets too…the long walk to the cottage that is bigger than Mick Jagger’s house, the bedroom with jungle vines, all the other rooms that seem empty and ready for renovation. Just like a stage set.

Watching old horror films like these and Masque of the Red Death and all the Corman-Poe adaptations gives me the same feeling I get when I watch foreign films or sci-fi, the atmosphere of a lost time and place that probably would’ve been boring and dangerous to have lived in, but is also insanely attractive at the same time. But it’s not a real place or time, it’s a pastiche of a time and place that Bava hadn’t lived in either. Like Deep Space Nine or the Liberator or the castle of Prince Prospero, none of this was ever real, but you wish it had been. Maybe to take part in it, as the Telly Savalas character does, to be in no real danger yet to experience everything.

Ah, is that what Bava is getting at?

We are the devil when we watch movies, or the news even? We’re in the same world, but we either can’t or don’t do a thing to help.

Right from the start of the film, there is a sense of inevitable doom. And when all the Italian actors keep saying ‘I’m so glad you’ve come back, things will be different this time’ you know that everyone, with the possible exception of Lisa, is going to die.

Nothing is within her control.

She doesn’t know enough to be able to leave, and when she finally does want to leave it’s too late, the dad of Gael Bernia Garcia has already gone loopy.

And the devil collects her soul at the end.

Why?

The more I think about it, the more confused I am about what the director was trying to say. I know he was a smart guy, he wouldn’t make a film about nothing. I hope he’s not saying that we’re reincarnated and our souls are destined to repeat the same errors based on the same character flaws, cos I lean heavily towards environment forming identity, and even if you think the soul is generally intransigent then why would her reincarnated face and body be the same as the previous, or one of the previous, ones. Wouldn’t that indicate genetics? The soul doesn’t come with a fixed face/body package, does it?

As the title is ‘Lisa and the Devil’ I’m gonna assume that she’s the focus, but…what the hell does any of this mean?

The reincarnation aspect really messes up my interpretation…or my attempt at interpretation. It just doesn’t make sense. The original Lisa died, right? She’s a skeleton on the bed, murdered by either the mum or the son. So she already paid for her infidelity. Didn’t she? Does her reincarnated soul need to relive the events and pay again?

All the other characters died too, but only the son and the mum seem to be aware that they’re stuck in a loop. But then the original Lisa and Carlos are already dead when they arrive, so…only Carlos, the mum and the son are stuck in a loop, for the second time? But so is Lisa, only she doesn’t realise it. Is it a different Lisa? Is it a reincarnated version from a century before? But it can’t be that long after the original Lisa died as the son is still quite young…unless he’s a ghost? He must be, cos Lisa’s a skeleton on his bed and it takes a good few years for a human body to decompose to that level…about 8-12 years if buried in the ground, I don’t know how long if you’re just laid out on a bed…so he either married her when he was a kid or he’s been revived as a ghost, or perhaps a real person by the devil as he dies at the end too, and it’s implied that he was reliving events which means he had died previously, which means…which means the bulk of the story is the second roll of the loop, and Lisa is hallucinating it…and the bookend scenes are her latest reincarnation being punished again for fucking Carlos.

Sorry, Mario, but that’s a ridiculous message, almost as bad as Klingons kids suffering family dishonour for 7 generations, and reincarnation is a very shaky proposition even based on its own proponents’ propaganda. Maybe if you adapted it a little and we’re reincarnated as aliens on other planets and that’s why it’s crucial that we don’t remember past lives…that might make a little bit of sense. More sense than being reincarnated with the same face multiple times.

I’m being too harsh, I liked this movie overall, mostly for its mood. And I look forward to checking out Black Sabbath. And doing some research on wiki. I could be wrong about Bava’s intentions, though I will say that the scene where she wakes up naked on the bed in the Garden of Spanish Eden could have some meaning I’ve missed.

Just checked the wiki entry. The plot synopsis clears some things up, things I missed while watching. Apparently, Telly Savalas explains that he’s the devil in the scene after Carlos has been murdered and has a special arrangement with the mum and son. I can’t remember him being so overt in the dialogue, but that’s what it says on wiki.

One critic calls the film a ‘metaphysical Hell’ that abandons logic on purpose.

When I read that and think of it that way, I end up liking the film more. A purely thematic/symbolic/everything has a planned meaning kind of film can turn out to be something like ‘MOTHER’ by Darren Aronofsky. Not good. But if the director goes with his gut/ID and lets others try to pick meaning out of the chaos, like Lynch and ‘LOST HIGHWAY’…

I don’t know if Bava really did that.

Or if there’s enough chaos to pick anything out of.

The ending undercuts the story a bit…feels like a stab at a shock ending…might’ve been better if she’d stayed in the villa, trapped in the past.

Was she really on a plane?

What happened to her friends at the start of the film?

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