Color, 1978, 94/82m.
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
Starring Gloria Guida, Lilli Carati, Ray Lovelock, Vincenzo Crocitti, Giorgio Bracardi
Raro (US R0 NTSC, Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Italy had a very, very strange relationship with its young people during the 1970s. Following the hippie movement of the preceding decade, exploitation films were suddenly filled with free-spirited, often naked teenagers running around selling drugs, having sex, and generally getting into trouble, often getting sent off the edge of a cliff in a car for their trouble at the end. TTo Be Twentyhe often much older filmmakers eyed these characters with a mixture of suspicion and envy, ogling the parade of bare flesh and celebrating their youthful exuberance while doling out a hefty dose of Catholic-style retribution. The degree of this attitude varies wildly, however, as you’ll find simply looking at a roster of films like Oasis of Fear, Paranoia, Last House on the Beach, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Queens of Evil, Torso, and the most sympathetic of the bunch, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.

However, none of them experienced a fate as bizarre as that of To Be Twenty (Avere vent’anni), a radical change of pace for director/screenwriter Fernando Di Leo, who was previously best known for his string of excellent crime films and one goofy giallo, Slaughter Hotel. Here he offers his own take on the frothy sex comedies that were populating movie screens around Europe with two of its most gorgeous leading ladies, blonde Gloria Guida (a former Miss Teenage Italy seen in The Teasers and Blue Jeans) and raven-haired Lilly Carati (a future porn actress also seen in Joe D’Amato’s The Alcove and the unforgettable nudist comedy, Skin Deep). Here they play – what else? – a couple of hitchhiking free spirits, Lia and Tina, who decide to experience life across provincial Italy on the way to the big city. Along the way they crash at a commune where they tangle with laid-back hippie Rico (Lovelock, the go-to guy for these kinds of roles), contend with a police raid, and come up with a variety of new and inventive ways to make money with their curvaceous bodies.

For many years, most viewers only knew this film as a featherweight T&A film that opens with the girls being chased through the woods by some randy locals, only to embark on a crazy string of misadventures that end with them back on the road looking to a future filled with more sexual escapades. However, that’s not even remotely how it was originally shot. Italian audiences were initially confronted with Di Leo’s original vision, which features much more frank sexuality, a better pop music score, and most significantly, a completely different ending that launches the film into graphic territory much closer to the rough horror films of the era (especially the oft-compared “Last House on the Left”). It’s a harrowing, incredibly downbeat finale that understandably sent patrons into a state of shock and killed off most of this film’s potential box office. The producers quickly cobbled together a happier recut of the film that evolved into the English-dubbed version VHS and cable fans grew to know and love (including a prominent tape release from Private Screenings), but once word got out about the original ending, Euro-sleaze fans began salivating at the thought of seeing this weird genre hybrid in its original full-strength edition.

Salvation first came in Italy courtesy of Raro’s original incarnation with a DVD presenting both the original shocking version and the retooled English language edit, with optional English and Italian subs. The Italian disc looked good for its time and featuerd a fascinating half-hour video interview with the director, "Twenty Years for a Massacre," in which he discusses his often misunderstood representation of women in his films, Italian morality, his fondness for nightclub dancers, and the complete nonsense of the reedited version of the film. It should be incredibly obvious to anyone watching the original cut of the film that sympathy lies with the girls at the end and not the neanderthal locals, but apparently a lot of people at the time misinterpreted the entire finale as some sort of hypocritical punishment. It took several years, but eventually Raro's USA branch unleashed the director's cut on DVD for the first time (in Italian with optional English subtitles), likewise paired up with the far less coherent English-dubbed edition. Image quality is extremely similar and appears to be culled from the same master; it's fine, of course, as both versions are apparently off the original negatives, but an HD upgrade down the road would certainly be welcome. The Di Leo featurette is carried over with optional English subs as well, and you also get a director bio and filmography, a photo gallery, and liner notes by yours truly if you'd like to read me yammering on even more about this one. The sleeve promises the original screenplay as well, but it must be a misprint or the feature is very hidden.       

Reviewed on 9/22/11.

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