Pros: Mario Bava's original underlying concept
Cons: Everything else
The House of Exorcism (1975)
aka the US re-edit of Mario Bava’s “Lisa and the Devil”
Mario Bava’s “Lisa and the Devil” is today widely recognized as a classic showcase of his work. It’s a gothic ghost story, stylized by his signature artistic direction and cinematography. However, despite its status today, it wasn’t a success at its current release. Bava had twice been successful when working on low budget movies with Alfredo Leone, so on “Lisa and the Devil” Leone gave the director carte blanche. The end result was one of Bava’s stylistic masterpieces, but the movie was a flop upon its Italian release and furthermore Leone couldn’t sell it to American distributors.
Eager to recoup his investment, Leone decided to reshoot the picture as an exorcism story, clearly attempting to cash in on the success of “The Exorcist” and retitled the picture “The House of Exorcism.” As such Bava’s original “Lisa and the Devil” becomes a flashback movie within the tale of possession and exorcism. Elke Sommer was retained for extra scenes shot within a hospital with Robert Alda added as a priest.
According to Leone in the DVD commentary, he managed to get Bava on board with the majority of the changes. I’ve not heard Bava’s take but according to the article on Wikipedia, they fought over the majority of the changes, Bava refused to shoot many of the scenes and eventually the director left the project before its completion. It’s especially revealing to see that Bava who also wrote the screenplay to “Lisa and the Devil” is listed neither as director nor writer on the “The House of Exorcism.” The director is actually listed as Mickey Lion. It’s clearly a pseudonym for Leone, Michael is a family member of his and more appropriately sounds close to Mickey Mouse.
“The House of Exorcism” starts in exactly the same way as “Lisa and the Devil.” It opens with Lisa (Sommer) arriving in Toledo, witnessing the devil mural then running into Telly Savales at an antique store. In an awkward cut she collapses on the streets of Toledo, and obvious to us as well as a passing priest (Alda) has become the victim of demonic possession. She’s rushed off to hospital, medicated, but continues to spew profanities and bodily fluids. The priest has several scenes with Lisa, and the story of Lisa’s trip to the remote mansion is interlaced as a series of flashbacks. I’d like to explain what’s going on at the mansion, but Bava’s original story here is lost within “The Exorcism” context.
I won’t hold back my words for too long here, but “The House of Exorcism” is an aberration. Firstly the possession scenes in the hospital, despite their heavily laced expletives and extended nudity, look like an LMN version of “The Exorcist.” It’s a complete rip off of that movie but it’s also poorly executed. Secondly the intertwining of the two storylines, old and new, is poorly put together. There’s no attempt at explaining the link between the two. Whether you’ve seen “Lisa and the Devil” or not it’s tough to understand the connection. It’s basically as if we have two different movies.
Much of Bava’s original artistry is still on display, particularly his makeup and special effects jobs. But his greatest achievement in “Lisa and the Devil” was lacing it all with an eerie dreamlike feel. It was visually beautiful, but also teasingly disorientating and surreal. In the post production on “The House of Exorcism” a great deal of that eerie atmosphere has been lifted. The series of flashbacks prevent the story from gaining any real fluency and much of the visual effect has been removed. One example is in the scene of Elke Sommer nude. In “Lisa and the Devil” it was a little hazily shot through a veil. Here we have the veil completely removed. Nudity obviously became a key selling objective to Leone as we have Sylva Koscina nude, a scene which was shot with much greater artistic obscurity in Bava’s original as well as a Brazilian (dispelling the Brazilian myth no less) actress being added in just for the purpose of full frontal nudity.
I respect Leone’s right to recover his financial investment, but when a producer thinks he’s a director we know we’re in for a rough ride. Listening to Leone’s claims and grandiosities on the DVD commentary is an almost nauseating experience. If I were to review “The House of Exorcism” independently of “Lisa and the Devil” I’d probably say it was a two star effort. However the way it takes Bava’s original concept and tries to add a different storyline is just a complete mess. The movie was a critical and financial failure in the US and thankfully Bava’s original is the version we see today.
Verdict: 1 Star – Watch “Lisa and the Devil” instead.
Mario Bava Reviews:
The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1
The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2
Black Sunday (1960)
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)
Black Sabbath (1963)
Knives of the Avenger (1966)
Kill Baby Kill (1966)
Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970)
Roy Colt & Winchester Jack (1970)
Bay of Blood/Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971)
Four Times That Night (1972)
Baron Blood (1972)
Lisa and the Devil (1974)
The House of Exorcism (1975)
Rabid Dogs/Kidnapped (1974)