Color, 1975, 93m.
Directed by Salvatore Bugnatelli
Starring Franca Gonella, Gabriele Tinti, Magda Konopka, Xiro Papas, Angelo Rizieri, Gianni Dei, Karen Fiedler
One 7 Movies (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Lurking behind the generic DVD title of Sex, Demons and Death is one of the rarest '70s Italian horror films, Diabolicamente... Letizia, one of the many occult shockers generated in Europe hot on the heels of the success of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby. However, far from being a blatant imitation, this one swerves into a weird hallucinatory territory similar to some of its Spanish cousins like Evil Eye and Satan's Blood, which aim for more ambitious goals even if they don't always hit the mark. The packaging promises "an unholy marriage between The Omen and Ed Wood at his most flamboyantly psychotronic," and while the acting certainly isn't the world's greatest, this one has a bit more to offer than that.

The anti-heroine of the film is young, blonde Letizia (late sexploitation regular Gonella), who's been left at a boarding school after the death of her parents. Her businessman uncle, Marcello (Tinti, the late significant other of Laura Gemser), and his wife Micaela (Satanik's Konopka), take her into their home and promise to treat her like their own child. However, we know something's amiss right away when the house manservant, Giovanni (Patrick Still Lives' Dei), stumbles upon her naked in her bedroom -- only to see her fleetingly turn into a hairy-faced beast. The encounter quickly spoils his love life with the maid, Giselle (Fiedler), who falls under Letizia's suggestion to try out lesbiansim ("At the boarding school, you have to make do") and makes an unsuccessful move on Micaela in the bedroom. Meanwhile Letizia does horrible things like telekinetically moving pillows and ashtrays and forcing her uncle's business partner to splash water on himself at dinner, but after getting attacked (or carted around, or something like that) by a bunch of hippies in a field, she decides to seduce her uncle, who doesn't seem to mind. Oh, and she also captures all of these sordid dalliances on camera, including a voodoo-induced hook-up between Micaela and Giovanni. Meanwhile a strange man in black (Papas) lurks nearby, carrying a secret of his own...

Ragged, cheap, and filled with clumsy tangents that often lead to nowhere, this film nevertheless remains compulsively watchable thanks to copious nudity (mainly from Gonella), a spare but often nifty electronic score by Giuliano Sorgini (The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue), an interesting albeit senseless twist ending, and some genuiniely feverish flashes of surrealism including a devilish nightmare scene with crazy disco lighting and a fun bit involving a severed head in a bedsheet. The body count is actually very low for a film of this ilk (and the gore is limited to a few dollops of stage blood here and there), but if you like your Italian '70s horror on the weird and unpredictable side, this unknown curio is worth digging up.

Another claim on the packaging is the fact that this DVD was made with the last surviving 35mm elements, which may very well be the case since this doesn't seem to have played anywhere outside of Italy or turned up on home video in any format before. (If anyone can supply info to the contrary, please share; there has to be a story behind the fate of this one.) The print has obviously been through a lot of wear and tear, including some very rough reel changes; there's also an obvious few seconds missing at the 18-minute mark (due to print damage) that render one scene senseless, and the hippie attack 36 minutes in actually slides halfway out of frame for a couple of shots! These blatant caveats aside, the color has actually remained well preserved, and the whole thing is still watchable in a trashy sort of way. The optional English subtitles are generally good, though a few phrases are bound to elicit confusion ("You're thinking to that soppy one, too!"). A pretty wild theatrical trailer (from a vastly inferior source, alas) is also included, featuring an extended version of the funky Casio-infused main theme.

Reviewed on August 16, 2011.