Synopsis: Tourist Lisa Reiner (Elke Sommer) encounters the Devil himself (Telly Savalas) while vacationing in Toledo, Spain. Recognizing in her the soul of a damned spirit that escaped him, the Devil possesses Lisa, who is sent to a local hospital. Father Michael (Robert Alda), an American priest, accompanies her and tries to exorcise the evil and blasphemous spirit from her soul…but can he discover the mystery of Lisa’s past identity and the horrors it bore witness to?
This re-structured version of Mario Bava’s ‘Lisa and the Devil’ features additional scenes not included in the original version and was completed by producer Alfredo Leone (who was credited with the pseudonym Mickey Lion) after the commercial success of 1973’s ‘The Exorcist’. Taking the original story in entirely new directions, THE HOUSE OF EXORCISM adds the horror of diabolical possession to an already potent mixture.
eyelights: its locations. its possession sequences. its sexy bits.
eyesores: its unclear plot.
“It will be different with you.”
Directors frequently struggle with studios or producers to retain their artistic vision. In fact, it’s frequently said that only Steven Spielberg gets “final cut” on his films; most other filmmakers simply don’t have the clout to fully protect their vision from outside meddling.
Sometimes movies end up close to what the director intended, but there are times when the pictures are nothing like they’d envisioned. A perfect example is ‘The Exorcist III‘, which was taken out of William Peter Blatty’s control and tied to ‘The Exorcist‘ despite his initial intentions.
‘The House of Exorcism’ is another such picture.
Originally filmed by Mario Bava and released in 1973 as ‘Lisa e il diavolo‘, the picture failed at the box office. So producer Alfred Leone decided to try to piggy-back on the phenomenal success of ‘The Exorcist’ and filmed new scenes which he used to re-edit the picture.
He transformed ‘Lise e il diavolo’ into ‘The House of Exorcism’.
The new picture, which was released in 1975, retains most of the original footage and plot, but it tacks on a new exorcism subplot, which plays concurrently with the other footage. The news scenes also star Elke Sommer as Lisa, and adds Robert Alda as Father Michael.
‘The House of Exorcism’ follows a tourist on her trip to Toledo. Inexplicably struck down by a supernatural force, her possessed body finds itself in the hospital, while her soul wanders the streets of Toledo and winds up interacting with a wealthy -but unusual- family.
Right from the opening credits, the tone of the picture is vastly different from the original film: it consists of a red drawing of some contorted female screaming, with white text and a white cross over it. The accompanying score is hyper, slightly strident, à la ‘The Omen‘.
Clearly, Leone wanted to add some grit to his version, as evidenced by the possession sequences, which are short on plot, and heavy on shock, gore and effects. Most of them consist of Elke Sommer contorting herself and spewing green stuff and increasingly vulgar lines.
Of course, this was to Sommer’s advantage, as she had grossly overacted her scenes in the original picture: many of them were trimmed in this version. And the newly-shot sequences justified a hyperbolic performance, so she comes off much better here in comparison.
Robert Alda is a bit on the bland side as her counterpoint, with Father Michael spending much time observing mounting evidence of demonic possession. But he gets a few interesting exchanges in the process, discussing the differences between science and Faith.
Though the new footage is crude (for example, gratuitous nudity is added to the mix), ‘House of Exorcism’ at least makes thing much clearer from the onset: Lisa is mistaken for someone called Elena – something that was unclear for the first half hour or so of the original film.
The advantage here is that at least we understand why Lisa is constantly being recognized by strangers. It doesn’t fully explain it, but at least we’re not nearly as confused. The way that this is handled, however, remains as unrefined as the rest of the picture’s additional scenes.
And yet, I was much more entertained by ‘House of Exorcism’ than by its predecessor. Though I liked the atmosphere of ‘Lisa e il diavolo’, it was such a long, drawn-out nonsensical affair that it wasn’t much fun to watch. Good or bad, at least something is happening in Leone’s re-edit.
But it remains inarticulate at times, such as when Leandro slams down a mannequin head of Elena and then Lisa is struck down in the streets, seemingly hit with a seizure. At least it stops her from wandering around endlessly this time around, but… um… what just happened?
And what about the ending, which is completely different than the original’s? One has to suppose that the priest’s exorcism succeeded (i.e. Lisa is wandering the streets again), but the picture ends abruptly after a few special effects and we don’t really know for sure.
‘House of Exorcism’ is where opacity and hyperbole collide. Clearly, Alfred Leone wanted to make a more commercially-viable picture, one that was more accessible to the average cinemagoer. Unfortunately, he tried to transform a motion picture that was anything but that.
He would have been better off making an entirely new picture instead of trying to cobble old and new. While ‘House of Exorcism’ is somewhat more intelligible, it’s a mish-mash that doesn’t come together seamlessly. And it isn’t respectful of Mario Bava’s efforts and intentions.
So I’m at a loss as to which I would recommend.
‘Lisa e il diavolo’ at least expresses the original filmmaker’s vision, flawed though it may be. ‘House of Exorcism’ is more entertaining – though in a crude, vulgar way. But neither are especially good films; they’re only worth watching back-to-back for the comparative experience.
Personally, I’m not sure that I’ll rewatch either of them.
Date of viewing: July 10, 2017