An image of actor Telly Savalas taken from a movie poster for the 1973 film, ‘Lisa and the Devil.’
Originally released in 1973, Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil was one of the director’s purest, least compromised visions of horror. Alfredo Leone—who collaborated with Bava and a team of writers on the screenplay and produced the movie—gave Bava complete control over every creative aspect of the film allowing the masterful Italian director to craft this gothic, psychotropic and often wildly profane piece of cinema.
In addition to Telly Savalas (and his trusty lollipop), Lisa and the Devil also stars Elke Sommer, Yugoslavian actress Sylva Koscina, and Alida Valli, who would later portray Miss Tanner in Dario Argento’s Suspiria. In an interesting side note, Savalas had just quit smoking which meant that his character in Lisa and the Devil, the devious slick-as-fuck butler Leandro wouldn’t be either (though there is a scene where Leandro bums a smoke which he inhales from deeply, inducing a coughing fit). Instead of cigarettes, Savalas stuck lollipops in his mouth and the gimmick would become synonymous with Savalas’ most famous character Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak in the crime drama Kojak which first aired approximately five months after Lisa and the Devil hit the big screen.
Nothing to see here, just Telly Savalas’ mannequin collection from ‘Lisa and the Devil.’
Bava establishes his undercurrent of unease quickly and reveals a rich storyline full of sex, murder, the abuse of corpses (including necrophilia), Savalas’ creepy as FUCK mannequin collection (pictured above) as well as other fever-dream induced scenarios. Lisa and the Devil was fairly well received on the festival circuit although this success didn’t translate to the film getting picked up for distribution. In an attempt to help get the film into theaters—and hoping to draw audiences that flocked to The Exorcist in December of 1973—Leone told Bava that he should spice up the plot of Lisa and the Devil to include some exorcism scenes. Bava initially refused but would later allow the addition of new scenes some of which were directed by Leone, such as more risque scenes featuring a mostly nude Elke Sommer—as well as one with Sommer going full-on Regan MacNeil and puking green chunks as a priest tries to get her demons to take a hike. When all was said and done, Lisa and the Devil was repackaged and released once again as The House of Exorcism in 1975. Here are a few words from Leone recalling his early days with Mario Bava:
“I first met Mario Bava in 1969 while in pre-production for Four Times That Night, the film that opened the gateway to justifiable nudity in cinema. Mario’s genius and ability in using his Mitchell camera to create special effects and set construction made of paper mache, plastic, and plywood, enabled me to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in production costs.”
Mario Bava is a director with so many mind-expanding gems to his credit that it is emphatically impossible to name his best film. That said, and as a massive fan of Mario Bava and Italian horror cinema, Lisa and the Devil in its original form is without a doubt one of Bava’s best movies for more reasons than I could state in this post. Though I will lay this on you—Telly Savalas’ portrayal of Leandro is beyond entertaining and is reason enough alone for you to see Lisa and the Devil if you’ve never seen it. Even if it’s been a while since you last saw it, restored versions of the film have been released by several companies including Anchor Bay and Arrow and are well worth adding to your collection. To help further convince you that Lisa and the Devil is a must-see for any true fan of horror I’ve posted some enticing, NSFW images from Lisa and the Devil and The House of Exorcism below.
A scene from ‘Lisa and the Devil’ featuring Savalas and one of his mannequins.
A still from ‘Lisa and the Devil.’
A Swedish movie poster for ‘The House of Exorcism.’
A lobby card for ‘The House of Exorcism.’
Alida Valli from ‘Lisa and the Devil.’
Sylva Koscina in ‘Lisa and the Devil.’
An image from of Telly Savalas in a mysterious painting.
A topless Elke Sommer.
An Italian movie poster for ‘The House of Exorcism.’
A fantastic close-up look at a colorful poster for ‘Lisa and the Devil.’
Savalas, Sommer and Alida Valli in a scene from ‘Lisa and the Devil.’
A collection of Spanish lobby cards for ‘The House of Exorcism.’
A scene from ‘Lisa and the Devil’ featuring Telly Savalas and his unsettling mannequin collection.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Telly Savalas takes a cinematic trip around Great Britain
Dario Argento’s horror classic ‘Suspiria’ and the most vicious murder scene ever filmed, 1977
Watch Keith Emerson and Dario Argento work on the soundtrack to ‘Inferno’ in 1980
1936 Italian horror short turns Edgar Allan Poe story into one of the earliest gore films