Making movies can be an ugly affair. There is the creative side of it, the choices made on theme, story, and characters, but then there is also the business side of it. You know, the choices that allow it to be distributed to your local theatre. Never has a such a case-study in the battle between those two sides been exhibited publicly than in the release of Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil and the subsequent, deeply edited and reshot version of that film, House of Exorcism. Luckily for the morbidly curious, both films are currently available on Netflix instant.
In short, Lisa and the Devil, directed by the Giallo legend Mario Bava, was released in Italy in 1974 to little more than a critical and commercial shrug. Beyond that shrug, the film failed to obtain a U.S. distribution deal. To the business side of filmmaking, which in this particular case was embodied by producer Alfredo Leone, this caused monetary palpitations. In a panicked attempt to obtain U.S. distribution Leone took the film back to the drawing board. With limited, and eventually no support from Bava, Leone added in Friedkin style exorcism scenes and re-edited the original footage heavily. What resulted was a stilted, awkward movie that made even less sense than the original. Apparently, when making a film from the business side the formula equals: “Add some extra boobies, throw some rubber snakes at a priest, and you got yourself a movie.”
To be fair, Lisa and the Devil isn’t quite a masterpiece in horror itself. It’s meandering, confusing, and a bit hokey enough that it can’t be called a complete success. It is, though, an interesting film with moments of true horror and thematic elements that give the film the feeling it deserves to exist. House of Exorcism though, feels more like Lisa and the Devil with a running commentary from a demon who probably never saw the film. If that weren’t bad enough, the added exorcism scenes feel so derivative of its cinematic peer “The Exorcist” it is nearly laughable. And while that general thievery makes it nearly laughable, the execution of it pushes it right over to completely laughable. We hear such demonic gems as: “I am the asshole of the world.” and the following exchange:
“Priest: Where do you come from?
Lisa/Demon: “From a cunt…ya jerk!”
And that’s what happens when the business side of moviemaking takes sole control of creative content. Decisions are not made by theme, story, or characters. They are made by marketability and demographic studies. Leone and his producing team saw that Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” had recently been a commercial and critical hit. Instead of understanding and respecting that popularity came from creative decisions, they tried to recreate the general shock and depravity without the context of a well crafted story. That results in an interesting film being hacked into some marketshare monster of celluloid.
The original film, Lisa and the Devil deals with a household of damaged people doing strange things, all while grasping to obsession and a twisted sense of love. House of Exorcism deals with a spastic, contorting woman who references “flashback” footage of a household of damaged people doing strange things, all while grasping to obsession and a twisted sense of love. The difference may seems slight, but in the end it makes all the difference in the world. The message is this: Dear business side, we need you to make movies, but you need us to make good ones. Let’s be friends. Sincerely, the creative side.