1. Titane – My favorite film of 2021! I’m sure it will end up on everyone’s list in the Swampflix crew because it’s very “Swampy”; it just fits the mold of movies we love. What initially seems to be a wacky film about a homicidal woman who was impregnated by a car turns out to be a movie about gender identity and unconditional love.
2. Willy’s Wonderland– My favorite version of Nic Cage is the silent and violent Nic Cage that gave us Mandy, which I wholeheartedly believe is one of the best films of all time. He does it again in Willy’s Wonderland, but this time, he’s fighting against a crew of Chuck E. Cheese style animatronic characters possessed with the souls of satanic cannibals. It is a high energy ride from beginning to end, and I really dug it.
3. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar – This was one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a very long time. It felt like a throwback to those late 90s/early 2000s comedies that were just pure stupid fun. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo are my new comedy queens, and I hope that they get to make a ton of sequels. I am forever grateful for having this movie come into my life during this god-awful pandemic.
4. Malignant – A new horror icon is born! This felt like a b-horror movie from the 70s or 80s with a dash of nu metal horror from the aughts. The nightmare that the film opens with morphs into a completely unexpected plot twist that literally made me scream. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
5. The Night House – This is one of the most unique horror films that I’ve ever seen. There are subtle hints dropped here and there that are enough to give you some explanation of all the spooky stuff happening, but nothing prepares you for the ending. It’s so damn smart.
6. Pig– The second Nic Cage movie on my list, but it’s miles away from being in the same bucket as Willy’s Wonderland. He’s such a complex actor! Pig is a very quiet “revenge” film that tugged at all my heart strings and reminded me how beautiful a perfect meal could be.
7. Swan Song – There aren’t many LGBTQ+ films with elderly main characters, which is a pity considering these individuals have been through hell and back in their experiences. Swan Song is a film that focuses strictly on its main character, an elderly gay hairdresser portrayed by Udo Kier. Kier is best known for playing supporting roles, but he is a force to be reckoned with in this lead performance.
8. The Woman in the Window – Yes, the reviews are terrible, but I just couldn’t stop watching this trashy Hitchcockian thriller. It’s a total blast! I had so much fun and found so much comfort watching this movie. It reminds me so much of silly thrillers from the 90s; it’s just missing Michael Douglas.
9. Saint Maud– The ending of Saint Maud had everyone talking, and it was indeed worthy of the attention. However, what really stuck with me was the relationship between Maud and Amanda. I still go back and forth in my mind trying to figure out what it really meant. Such a haunting film for so many reasons.
10. Gaia– The only eco horror film that I watched in 2021. Gaia was so good that I felt satisfied with keeping it that way. It’s an atmospheric masterpiece. Plus, there’s spooky mushroom people!
11. The Power of the Dog – What a wonderful yet unnerving film. I went into this not expecting much, and I was completely blown away. I guess I’m into Westerns now?
12. False Positive – The second-best pregnancy horror of 2021 (the first being Titane). It has a very interesting way of exploring how scary it is to be pregnant with no control over your body. Also, I can’t believe how amazing Pierce Brosnan is at playing a villain.
13. Old– I love trying to figure out the puzzles in M. Night Shyamalan movies, and I wish the world could be blessed with a few of these every year. Old delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Shyamalan movie, and that is 100% a good thing.
14. The Green Knight – My new favorite Christmas movie! It’s a medieval tale with A24 horror stylings that make for a unique work of art.
15. Mandibles– This goofy French buddy comedy about a really cute giant fly is just as fun as it sounds. It’s a total gem of a movie that offers some big laugh out loud moments.
Welcome to Episode #150 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Britnee, James, Brandon, and Hanna discuss the often-ignored art of the short film, starting with the existential nightmare La Cabina (1972).
26:45 A Trip to the Moon (1902) 36:16 The Dancing Pig (1907) 41:00 Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) 52:00 The Red Balloon (1956) 1:08:08 The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (2011) 1:22:22 Money + Love (2018) 1:38:55 Opal (2020)
Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before and we discuss it afterwards. This month Brandon made Hanna, Boomer, and Britneewatch Lifeforce (1985).
Brandon:Lifeforce is a Golan-Globus production directed by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Tobe Hooper and adapted from the sci-fi pulp novel The Space Vampires by Dan O’Bannon, screenwriter for Alien. It is an absurdly lavish production for a Cannon Group film—or really for any film with this chaotic of an imagination—especially considering the scrappier genre pictures its creators usually helm.
It starts as an Alien-style sci-fi pulp throwback where dormant “space vampires” are discovered in both bat & humanoid form on an abandoned spaceship parked on Haley’s Comet, then brought back to London for scientific examination. Once the lead vampire awakes on the autopsy table and sucks the electrified “lifeforce” out of the first nearby victim, the boundaries of the film’s genre classification explode into every possible direction. This is at times an alien invasion film, a body-possession story, a sci-fi spin on vampire lore, a post-Romero zombie apocalypse picture, and an all-around genre meltdown whatsit that keeps piling new, upsetting ideas onto each subsequent sequence until you’re crushed by the enormity of its imagination. With Lifeforce, Hooper & O’Bannon found the rare freedom to stage a gross-out B-picture on a proper Hollywood blockbuster budget, and they indulged every bizarre idea they could conjure in the process – complete with extravagant practical effects and a swashbuckling action-hero score performed by The London Symphony Orchestra.
I’ve been meaning to make time for Lifeforce since as far back as our buddies at the We Love to Watch podcast covered it five years ago. I am not surprised that I loved it, but I was delighted to discover how much its space-vampire mayhem is a supernatural form of erotic menace, which is my #1 horror sweet spot. It would have been more than enough for the soul-sucking space-vampires to turn Earthlings into exploding dust-zombies & leaky bloodsacks, but what really made me fall in love is how they start the process by hypnotizing their victims with intense horniness.
Like with Alien, Dan O’Bannon is playing with the psychosexual terror lurking just below the surface of retro sci-fi relics like Queen of Blood & The Astounding She-Monster, but the approach to modernizing that erotic menace is much more heteronormative here than with the male-pregnancy & penetrative fears of H.R. Giger’s iconic alien designs. Lifeforce portrays modern-day London as a city of sexually repressed Conservative men whose greatest fear is a confident, nude woman. The lead nudist vampire is not only too sexy & self-assured for the terminally British subs who fall under her spell, she also terrorizes them by linking that intense erotic attraction to the blurred gender boundaries of their own psyches. Some of the best scenes of the film are when her victims describe her as “the most overwhelmingly feminine presence [they’ve] ever encountered” or when she confesses that her physical form is just a projection of the femininity trapped inside their own minds. By the time a silhouette of her breasts is framed as if it were Nosferatu‘s creeping shadow, I was fully in love with the way this film attacks its uptight macho victims through the vulnerability of their erotic imaginations. I love a good wet nightmare, and it was endlessly fun to watch them squirm.
Hanna, what do you make of this film’s sexual & gender politics? Does its erotic terror add anything substantial to the more traditional zombie & vampire scares that throw London into chaos, or does it just feel like an exploitative excuse to cram some straight-boy-marketed nudity onto the screen?
Hanna: Boy howdy! Lifeforce was one of the exponentially wildest things I’ve seen in recent memory. Brandon, I think you mentioned The Wicker Man during our screening, which is the exact vein of horny fear I found in this movie; the ill-fated, repressed sexualities of Anglo-Saxon men never cease to delight me. I was completely on board with a beautiful naked woman walking her way—unbelievablyslowly—through quivering throngs of Brits.
Overall, Lifeforce is a fantastic addition to the vampire canon, which has always had lots to say about the terror of sex and sexuality. Most of the vampire movies I’ve seen feature naturally hot, youthful vamps, lounging around in sensuous mansions. I’ll never turn down a coven of hot Draculas, but I loved that these vampires of Lifeforce were truly horrifying space hell beasts using the fantasies of their hosts to craft their appearances (I like to imagine the other aliens that these vampires have sucked dry throughout the galaxy – imagine the hottest tentacled space glob in the universe). Human sexuality is so specific to particular events and images at different moments of a person’s life that I think lots of people don’t understand where their kinks and preferences come from. I loved that moment Brandon mentioned when the lead space vampire (named “Space Girl” in the credits, which tickles me) tells Col. Carlsen that she’s the manifestation of his femininity; he’s totally locked that aspect of his sexuality away from himself, but it’s plainly obvious and extremely easy to exploit. What would Space Girl find in my mind? I kind of want to know, but I kind of don’t!
I do have to say that I was a little disappointed by the exclusive focus on heteronormative sexuality. On one hand, part of the humor of this movie is that Space Girl exerts minimal effort while successfully throwing London into unchecked chaos with her cadre of androgynous space vampire hunks, due in large part to the desperately horny male leaders of foundational institutions. Clearly, this was the correct tack to take from a strategic standpoint. It’s just that for a super sexy movie that featuring exploding dust zombies, shapeshifting space vampires, and a floating, coagulated blob comprised of torrents of Sir Patrick Stewart’s blood, couldn’t we have gotten just a little touch of queer flirtation? (I guess she sucks the life force out of a woman in the park, but we don’t actually see it happen, so I’m not counting it!) We get a little touch of that in the femininity scene, but I wish the movie would have delved into even kinkier territory.
Boomer, I thought these space vampires were a great direction for film’s hall of vampires. What did you think? How do these monsters compare to their terrestrial blueprints?
Boomer: I was also hung up on the vampires’ heteronormativity. We spend so much full-frontal time with Space Girl that I could draw her labia from memory right now, weeks after seeing the movie, but we (of course) had plentiful and abundant convenient censorship of our hot space twunks’ docking equipment. I suppose it’s logical that a film that exists solely because of the male gaze and which requires the ubiquity of the male gaze to make narrative sense should also cater solely to it, but that doesn’t mean one can’t complain about it.
Unusually for me, I prefer my vampire fiction mystical rather than scientific. It’s not just because most sci-fi vampire films are pretty bad (Daybreakers immediately comes to mind, followed by Bloodsuckers and Ultraviolet); there are plenty of terrible supernatural vampire movies. Still, when measuring good against bad, the ratio of good sci-fi vampires to bad ones skews much more negatively than their magical brethren. As much as I liked Lifeforce, that this (blessed) mess counts as one of the good ones kind of tells you everything that you need to know, right? I just like it when vampires have to glamour people or have to be invited in; I think it makes for more interesting storytelling than vampirism-as-a-virus or, as is the case here, vampires are extraterrestrial beings that suck out life force. When it comes to twists on the lore, however, there was one thing that I really did like: the reanimation of victims who must likewise consume life energy, and which turn to dust if unable to do so. The effects in these scenes were nothing short of spectacular, and they were the best part of the film. I know that they must have been remastered at some point, but those puppets were really something fascinating to behold.
One of the things that I did have some trouble with was the pacing, especially with regards to character introductions. For the first 20 minutes or so, it’s like watching 2001(or Star Trek: The Motion Picture) on fast-forward as spectacular vistas and space structures are explored, before we’re suddenly in a very boring office space, and we’re figuratively and literally down to earth for the rest of the movie. There’s not that much interesting about any of the spaces we explore (other than that one lady’s apartment with the Liza Minnelli poster), and it felt like every 20 minutes a new guy just sort of walked into the view of the camera and the film became about him for a while. I wasn’t sure who was supposed to be our protagonist, which left me spinning. That our leads were all largely indistinguishable white dudes also contributed to this for me; when Steve Railsback reappeared after not having been seen since the ship exploration sequence, I thought he was the same character as the guy who had exploded into dust in the scene immediately prior. Was this also an issue for you, Britnee? Did the pacing work for you?
Britnee: When looking back on the scenery in Lifeforce, all I can recall is the color brown. All of those wood paneled walls and dull office spaces made the sets feel a little musty. The one major exception is when the space crew explores the mysterious 150-mile-long spacecraft (a scale I still can’t wrap my head around). I loved the uncomfortable rectum-looking entrance that leads them to the collection of dried-up bat creatures and the hive of nude “humans” in glass containers. I wasn’t ready to leave that funky space place so quickly. I wanted to see more compartments of the craft explored. There was 150 miles of it after all, and they only went through what seemed to be less than a mile. I know poking around the craft would cost money, but with the massive budget for this film, the money was obviously there. It just should have been spent better.
As for the pacing, I was so focused on all of the space vampire mayhem that I didn’t pay much attention to all of the boring white guys who were main characters . . . unless they were getting their life sucked out of them and exploding into dust. It was pretty difficult to keep up with who was who and how they plugged into all of the insanity, but it didn’t really bother me because just about everything else in the movie was so much fun.
Britnee:Lifeforce would do so well as an animated series. I saw that there was talk about a potential remake, but it seems like animation would be the way to go. That way, there would be fewer financial limitations, so all the freaky stuff could be even freakier.
Boomer: That both of our male leads (at least I think they’re our leads) had hard-C alliterative names (Colonel Carlsen and Colonel Colin Caine) was a real detriment. But once Kat pointed out that Carlsen was Steve Railsback, aka Duane Barry, I could at least keep track of him.
Brandon: I was initially disappointed by the lack of onscreen peen myself, but the more I think about how much this movie is about straight men’s psychosexual discomforts the more I’m okay with it. If you’re going to frame your lusty B-movie this strictly through male gaze, you need to at least interrogate the limitations & vulnerabilities of that gaze, and I think Lifeforce does that well. Rather than a remake, I think there’s an angle for a spinoff sequel that follows the two Nude Dudes around the entire night instead of Space Girl, since most of their adventures were off-screen. Coming to Hulu as soon as Disney buys up the Cannon Group catalog, after they’ve gobbled up the rest of the pop media landscape.
Hanna: Speaking of constant female nudity, my favorite tidbit of trivia about Lifeforce is that it was extremely difficult to find a female lead willing to be naked for the entire movie. Hooper had to resort to chartering a plane of German actresses to London after failing to find an English actress; by the time the actresses got to London, they had collectively agreed not to audition for the part. Thank God for Mathilda May! Maybe it would have been too much trouble to get some peen in the picture; I’m glad we got at least a little ethereal, vampiric nakedness.
Upcoming Movies of the Month January: The Top Films of 2021
Welcome to Episode #149 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Britnee, James, Brandon, and Hanna discuss four semi-autobiographical films based on their directors’ own lives, starting with Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory (2019).
02:10 Dune(2021) 12:30 Love Hard (2021) 16:30 Old(2021)
For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Britnee and Brandon discuss A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story (1992), a three-hour, two-movie “event” that earned notoriety through frequent re-run broadcasts on the Lifetime network.
02:00 Fatal Charm (1990) 07:30 The Deadly Look of Love (2000) 14:30 Censor (2021) 18:35 The Mad Women’s Ball (2021)
22:05 A Woman Scorned (1992) 39:32 Her Final Fury (1992)
Every month one of us makes the rest of the crew watch a movie they’ve never seen before and we discuss it afterwards. This month Hanna made Brandon, Boomer, and Britneewatch Lisa and the Devil (1973).
Hanna: I didn’t know anything about Mario Bava the first time I saw Lisa and the Devil (1974). It was two or three Halloweens ago, when streaming services pepper their suggestions with every horror movie in their arsenals, especially Argento & Bava films from the 70s with irresistible, colorful covers. The film has persistently clung to my mind since then because of its totally bizarre ending and its resplendent, House of Usher-esque mansion. I don’t know if it held up for me on a second viewing, and it has a gross depiction of sexual assault at ~1:14:00 that I had completely forgotten about, but I still overall enjoyed Bava’s spooky dreamscape.
At the outset of Lisa and the Devil, Lisa—a German tourist played by Elke Sommer—is climbing off a tour bus in Toledo, Spain. The very first stop of the tour brings her group to a mural of the Devil carrying the dead away, with a face that “expresses a quality which reflects the very soul of pleasure and evil.” Lisa seems struck by this mural, and inexplicably leaves her friend behind with the tour group to go wandering through the small Spanish village alone. She’s drawn into an antique shop and finds herself mesmerized by a sort of box-less music box/turntable with six rotating figures (if somebody could tell me what this thing is called, I would be much obliged – it’s extremely cool). She interrupts the shopkeeper’s conversation with the lone customer in the shop, who’s fussing over the particularities of a large wooden doll, to purchase the object. The customer turns to look at Lisa, who realizes that he bears a striking resemblance to the “very soul of pleasure and evil” plastered on the mural. From that point on, Lisa is lost; she dashes from the shop and wanders hopelessly through the deserted streets of Toledo, finding it impossible to return to the town square and repeatedly running into the menacing man from the mural (played by Telly Savalas) and the human manifestation of his life-size wooden doll. Eventually night falls, and she’s picked up by a tense couple and their driver in a lovely green car. Lisa is hopeful that this is the end of her nightmare, until the car breaks down in front of a sprawling Spanish villa of an elderly blind countess (Alida Valli) and her odd son Maximillian (Alessio Orano). The villa is staffed, of course, by Leandro, who continues to drag around his giant wooden doll for a mysterious purpose.
The rest of the film slowly unfolds into a visually striking festival of murder. The long shots of Lisa wandering throughout the remote village and the rich, green grounds of the villa are fantastic, and the interior of the villa oozes with a thick, decrepit opulence (I love the rotting cake room). I mostly found the performances a little lackluster, especially Sommer (who, despite being the leading lady, has about 10 lines of dialogue), but Telly Savalas is a pleasure to watch as a puckish devil butler who’s perpetually sucking on lollipops.
Britnee, I think I’m a Bava newbie compared to the rest of the Swampflix crew. I’ve heard some people say that this one is especially strange and dream-like, but it was the first Bava film I ever saw, so I didn’t have much of a reference for his body of work. How do you think Lisa and the Devil stacks up against his other films?
Britnee: I’ve actually only seen a couple of Bava films, but there was something different about this one. The other films I’m thinking of—Blood and Black Lace (my first Movie of the Month choice!) and Kill, Baby…Kill! in particular—weren’t as dreamlike for sure, but even more so, none had a character as comical as Leandro. Bava’s characters tend to be dark, mysterious, and serious – just not the type of characters that you really connect with. In no way is that a bad thing, because I’ve never watched a Bava movie for the cast. Bava movies are beautiful, bloody treasures about creepy sickos, and I expect nothing more. Leandro caught me off guard because I expected him to be terrifying since he’s basically the Devil. I thought he was going to terrorize Lisa from the moment she ran into him in the antique shop, but he felt like more of a guide instead – guiding Lisa and the audience to and around the castle while making clever comments and sucking on lollipops. He felt more like a witty uncle than Satan.
My absolute favorite thing about Lisa and the Devil are all of the creepy mannequins. The first one we see that continuously reappears is a mannequin of Carlos, the dead lover of the dead woman who Lisa resembles. But we eventually get introduced into a room filled with them! It seems that everyone who’s murdered by this bizarre castle family is transformed into a mannequin. This becomes apparent when Leandro takes Lisa’s measurements after she faints. I was hoping for some satanic ritual where Leandro turns the dead bodies into mannequins before our eyes, but it never goes down that road.
The ending of this film is so unexpected. Just when we think that Lisa is free and leaving Spain, she’s trapped on a plane with corpses and Leandro. This is where she turns into a mannequin and essentially dies. Brandon, what are your thoughts on the ending? Should Lisa have lived or died on the castle grounds instead?
Brandon: I don’t have any strong opinions about whether Lisa should have survived this film un-mannequined, but I do appreciate that she got to escape from the castle grounds after sunrise. At first, the shifting geography of the city and Lisa’s role as a silent observer had me thinking of this movie as a dream-logic story, but her return to the modern world outside the castle helped me re-contextualize everything as fairy tale logic, which is its own distinct thing. The way the castle feels untethered to the modernity, the way its decadent food is used as bait to lure in outsiders, and the way Bava constantly frames its inhabitants through mirror reflections all feel traditional to fairy-tale storytelling – something that didn’t dawn on me until the castle receded back into its own temporal limbo at, well, dawn. I loved seeing Lisa emerge from that fairy tale realm to return to her modern-tourist reality, and by then I was pretty much down for however Bava wanted to wrap it up. Maybe she couldn’t fully escape the castle because she ate the food and drank the wine: a classic fairy tale blunder.
As always with Bava, Lisa and the Devil is consistently beautiful, and parsing out the whats & whys of ~what’s really going on~ in its plot is miles beside the point. What I love most about this film is how much it resembles a standard haunted castle horror movie (maybe with more shapeshifting mannequins than usual) but the longer you grapple with its internal sense of logic the less familiar it feels. The car troubles that lead a foursome of naïve passersby to the film’s haunted castle are clichéd almost to the point of conscious parody, and yet the Technicolor surrealism they encounter inside is something you’ll be hard-pressed to find in any of the Hammer Horror or Corman-Poe movies it recalls. Boomer, what do you think Bava brings to the creepy-castle horror movie as a genre? Is his filmmaking or storytelling style particularly suited for this generically spooky setting in any way?
Boomer: One thing that I thought was notable here is that, when we think about Mario Bava, we mostly think about his earlier directorial work, starting with 1957’s I, Vampiri, then peaking in the early-to-mid 1960s. That’s the era with perennial classics like Black Sunday (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963) as well as movies that we’ve mentioned above: Blood and Black Lace (1964) and Kill, Baby, Kill (1966). After that, we get things like Hatchet for a Honeymoon (1970), which I did not care for, and 1972’s Baron Blood, which I got on VHS many years ago and managed to sit through precisely once. When we talk about Bava, we always talk about him as a horror or giallo director, and although that makes up the bulk of his filmography, we rarely talk about his sword-and-sandals swashbucklers (Hercules in the Haunted World, Erik the Conqueror), his non-giallo crime thrillers (like Danger: Diabolik), or his westerns (The Road to Fort Alamo, Roy Colt & Winchester Jack), and even his non-horror sci-fi The Day the Sky Exploded usually gets lumped in with his horror sci-fi like Planet of the Vampires and Caltiki – The Immortal Monster. But what’s really missing from this list are references to his comedy pictures, like spy spoof Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs and sex romp Four Times That Night.
Strangely, I think it’s the last of these that has the most influence on Lisa and the Devil, as it allows for a little levity in the proceedings. I don’t think any actor I’ve seen in a Bava film has been as magnetic and fun as Telly Savalas is here, hamming it up and clearly having a good time. The scene in which he bums a smoke from one of the visitors and then loudly chastises the man for smoking indoors when the blind countess enters the room is an inspired gag, as are his seemingly improvised moments, like when he dances with one of the mannequins. Italian horror movies are littered with scenes in which a person gives exposition to a bound or unconscious figure (Profundo rosso comes to mind), but Savalas manages to turn even this into a lively and comparably electric scene. I’ve often said that comedy and mystery “live” in the same mental space; what is a punchline if not a resolution that makes you laugh? What is the answer to a riddle if not the solution to a mystery? That Savalas is an American amidst these Europeans (most of whom probably learned their lines phonetically or were dubbed, both of which were in fashion at the time) also contributes to a separation between himself and makes him appear much more lifelike and composed. All too frequently, casting is treated as something that’s purely matter-of-fact in films; Dune is about the dangers of trusting a white savior and deconstructing that narrative of white messiahs, but that also means it’s about a white twink savior, so of course the current film adaptation has the whitest and twinkiest of currently working actors. Here, the casting of Savalas contributes to the tone, which I found fascinating.
To circle back on Bava’s storytelling style, the gothic is definitely where his powers reign supreme, and I don’t think that anyone else could have helmed this movie and captured that energy and atmosphere as well as he does here. Comparing this film to the body of work of his two major contemporaries, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, both of them made their own dreamlike haunted house stories within a few years, with Suspiriafor the former and The Psychic for the latter, although the reasons for the house/school being/seeming haunted in each of those films is decidedly different, both from one another and from Lisa and the Devil. Lisa is also a much more successful counterposing of the modern and the gothic than the aforementioned Baron Blood. In that film, a modern (for 1972) American co-ed visits his ancestral home in Austria and resurrects a murderous aristocratic forefather, while Lisa is a modern (for 1974) tourist thrust into a decaying relic of a home inhabited by murderous aristocrats. That they both exist, were released a mere 2.5 years apart, and that Bava wrote both in addition to directing them, says something about his interest in contrasting those two things later in his life, and I do wish we could have seen more of that before he passed away in 1980. Interestingly, although Suspiria is largely considered Argento’s masterpiece and The Psychic was a film I heard discussed in certain circles with frequency, Lisa and the Devil is one I had never heard of before this viewing.
Shudder’s interface describes this as “Bava’s strangest film” (emphasis added), presumably because it boasts a more dreamlike atmosphere than his other horror fare, but I can’t say that I necessarily agree. Although the ending leaves much to the imagination and interpretation, this is a film that makes explicit early on that the narrative takes place in a timeless non-time on a carousel that loops. We first see the animated music box thing in the shop as soon as Lisa wanders away from her tour group, and it immediately captivates her, with the six figures depicted representing the characters that we will meet as well as the fact that, although they may be in motion and constantly moving away from one another, they are nonetheless in a closed loop that ends where it begins. We are also let in on the fact that the ghosts or spirits that reside in the villa are not necessarily bound there, as Lisa meets Carlos for the first time far from the Countess’s home; it’s here that he drops his watch, breaking it in such a way that the clock’s hands do not lie over its face, cluing us in that not only is this a loop, but one in which time has no meaning. Full size mannequins weren’t really a thing until the mid-1750s, when they were made of wicker. Wicker mannequins gave way to those made of wirework, which were supplanted with papier-mâché mannequins, which were themselves replaced with wax figures, which eventually gave way to the plastic mannequins—with which we are mostly familiar—in the 1920s. The figures here appear waxen to me, which immediately pegs them as being outmoded and out of time by half a century in the film’s contemporary 1970s setting.
Hanna: Besides the gorgeous, lustrous cinematography, I will forever treasure Lisa and the Devil as the only film I know of with a haunted European villa and a haunted plane. I would 1000% watch Lisa descend further into madness in a surreal plane-centric sequel.
Britnee: I thought Leandro was strangely similar to the bald, lollipop sucking detective from the popular 70s detective show Kojak. Well, it turns out that they’re the same person. Telly Savalas is both Leandro and Kojak! Kojak premiered shortly after Lisa and the Devil, so this lollipop habit crossed over between the two as they were most likely being filmed at the same time.
Boomer: Telly Savalas is best remembered as TV’s Kojak or as one of many Blofelds (he’s the one in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, for the record), but for me, he will forever be remembered as the stepfather from the Twilight Zone classic “Living Doll.” He’s also in The Alfred Hitchcock Hour‘s “A Matter of Murder” with Darren McGavin, meaning it’s the only time outside of their respective series that Kojak and Kolchak worked together, so stick that in your back pocket to whip out as trivia for your relatives at Thanksgiving this year.
If this film’s ending was a chiller to you, I also recommend the short story “Showdown,” by Shirley Jackson. Although spooky season as defined by the Gregorian calendar may be officially over, if you believe, you can carry it with you in your heart all year, and this short story, which was previously mentioned in our Lagniappe episode about 2020’s Shirley, remains one of the most chilling ghost stories to ever stir my soul.
Brandon: We cannot let this conversation go by without acknowledging the bizarre existence of 1975’s The House of Exorcism. Since contemporary distributors weren’t sure how to market Bava’s loopy nightmare in America as-is, they re-edited Lisa and the Devil into a cash-in knockoff of Friedkin’s wildly popular The Exorcist, titled The House of Exorcism. In that cut, the haunted castle sequences of Lisa and the Devil are recontextualized as hallucinations Lisa suffers while writhing in a hospital bed, possessed by Satan (there are also some additional nude scenes shoehorned in to up the titillation factor for the drive-in crowd). It’s a bizarre viewing experience if you’ve already seen Lisa and the Devil, simulating the horror of watching a shitty movie you remember being great – like revisiting the original King Kong only to find half the scenes replaced by clips from Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.
Bava was rightfully appalled by the production of House of Exorcism, and successfully had his name removed from the project. It’s embarrassing as a standalone film, but I will say there’s a welcome novelty in seeing the horror master’s usual laidback pace properly sped-up in the edited-to-shreds clips it uses from Lisa and the Devil. It’s maybe the closest I’ve ever gotten to understanding disrespectful youngins who “speedwatch” everything at 1.5x.
Upcoming Movies of the Month December: Brandon presents Lifeforce (1985) January: The Top Films of 2021
Welcome to Episode #145 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Britnee, James, Brandon, and Hanna discuss four classic horror movie musicals, starting with Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974).
01:00 Picture Mommy Dead (1966) 04:20 The Wicker Man (1973) 07:00 The Amityville Horror (1979) 14:00 A Cat in the Brain (1990)
18:00 Phantom of the Paradise (1974) 42:24 The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) 1:07:00 Little Shop of Horrors (1986) 1:26:40 The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
Welcome to Episode #144 of The Swampflix Podcast. For this episode, Britnee, James, Brandon, and Hanna discuss the heyday, return, and possible retirement of TV’s all-time greatest horror host: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
02:00 Malignant (2021) 09:55 White of the Eye (1987) 13:45 Titane (2021) 18:15 Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
22:33 Elvira’s 40th Anniversary, Very Scary, Very Special Special, Especially for You (2021)
48:58 Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988) 1:00:18 Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001)