Lisa (Elke Sommer) is a tourist in Spain. During a sight-seeing tour, she sees a strange fresco of the devil carrying souls to the afterlife. What captivates her about the fresco is that the devil in the painting looks a lot like Kojak! Soon, she begins to enter something of an alternate world, and trying to get home she picks a ride with a rich but unhappy couple. Their car breaks down in front of a mansion where a weird but blind mother (Alida Valli from Suspiria and The Third Man) and her troubled but handsome son. Soon Lisa starts falling for the young son, but weird things start occurring: unknown people feel that they recognize her as somebody else, and even weirder, the family’s butler looks a lot like the devil in the fresco.
This is one of Mario Bava’s most underrated films, done in the period after his AIP productions and before he made the slasher prototype Bay Of Blood. It was Bava’s dream project, but producer Alfredo Leone wasn’t too happy with the product. He re-shot some scenes to imitate The Exorcist and retitled it “House Of Exorcism” behind Bava’s back. As the years went by, this movie became something of a sought-after treasure until it was finally released in the mid-80’s in it’s original form. Now, this movie has a lot of conflicts and strikes going for it. For starters, the movie is very slow. Slower than your typical European horror film. While this might be a turn-off to many, I was genuinely intrigued by the material. It has the logic of a nightmare, where characters appear and disappear, are killed violently by the mother’s son and has a weird back-story that involves the Italian’s favorite subject, necrophilia. Unlike the realistic portrayals done by D’Amato’s Buio Omega and Buttgereit’s Nekromantik, here Bava’s necrophiliac subjects are very much in the tone of the film, like a nightmare. When the act is finally committed, it’s almost sensual to the point of being arousing, very different to that we see in, say, Nekromantik.
The cast features a lot of famous and familiar faces. Alida Valli from Suspiria and The Third Man appears as the mother, who may or may not be blind. Her role isn’t as exaggerated as in Suspiria, indeed she’s quite calm and docile, unlike the son character who oddly enough looks a lot like Alida. Elke Sommer was better doing comedies than horror movies for Bava, but she’s still pretty good here, and looks hot. I was surprised she did a nude scene in the film, but it’s very well done and in good taste, without being explicit but losing none of it’s sexiness. But the man who gets the top billing is Telly Savalas. I’ve always been a fan of his, thanks to great films like The Dirty Dozen. But I just couldn’t buy him as The Devil. For starters, he keeps talking to himself during the whole movie and doing very bad jokes. The fact that his voice was dubbed probably doesn’t help either. But what really turned me off was the fact that he was eating lollipops during the whole thing. Yeah you look cool when you were doing it on Kojak, but here not so much. I was expecting him to say “Who loves ya, Lisa? You’re beautiful!”
Still, even with it’s weird casting choices, this film is one of Bava’s best. Many people have called it slow and confusing, but watch it on your own and make your own opinion, you might find a very beautiful, hallucinatory and macabre nightmare caught on film, done by the master.