DVD: Sex, Demons and Death / Diabolicamente… Letizia (1975)

September 22, 2011 | By

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Film: Weak/ DVD Transfer: Good/ DVD Extras: Standard

Label: One 7 Movies/ Region: 0 (NTSC) / Released: August 23, 2011

Genre: Erotica / Horror / Cinema Bizarre

Synopsis:  After adopting a busty niece as their own child, a wealthy couple discover she’s a temptress with a determined goal to destroy their happy paradise.

Special Features: Theatrical Trailer




It’s hard to tell exactly what was on Salvatore Bugnatelli’s mind when he made the erotic supernatural thriller Sex, Demons and Death, because the film fails to deliver in the first category, infers demons in the second, and delivers multiple but mediocre deaths in the finale for what is a marginally hypnotic, ineptly executed writing & directorial debut.

Apparently Bugnatelli was a stage actor of little note who migrated to directing when the climate and opportunities for genre knockoffs were en vogue in Italy. According to a brief bio entry in Wikipedia, his first effort, Scusi eminenza… posso sposarmi? was filmed in 1973 but wasn’t released until 1975, making Sex his official debut – and what a doozy it is.

Trippy, amateurish, and nonsensical, Sex has a wealthy couple unable to conceive deciding to adopt their niece Letizia (Franca Gonella), who’s been wasting away in a boarding school since her mother’s sudden passing.

Once she’s legally signed over as the couple’s new property, everything should be very joyful in Giovanni (Gianni Del) and Micaela’s (Magda Konopka) household, but things start off badly when the uniformed butler sees Letizia as a demon (or rather a demon in werewolf makeup). The experience isn’t wholly traumatic, because the butler is able to continue with his servile duties, but he does stop sleeping with the maid and gives his full attention to Letizia, who cock-teases him when she’s not cock-teasing Giovanni, or muff-brushing Micaela in an effort to make her primary sexual preference fuzzy.

When Letizia steps out one afternoon to see if the other kids in the neighbourhood share her bust size, she’s gang raped; the kids swarm her, plop her on the hood of a Jeep, and whisk her away, but we never see the actual assault – just her coming home in literal tatters later that night. Standing in front of her step-Papa, Letizia acts as though she merely fell into a really big puddle, but the experience has apparently goosed her into full heat, so she copulates with Giovanni.

As she uses sex to divide and fracture already tenuous relationships within the family villa, her true goal is revealed: inflict payback on her step-parents, whom she believes is responsible for her mother’s death.

Letizia uses the dark powers she learned from a duplicitous teacher at school – a strange wrestler dude dressed like Coffin Joe [M], who stands at the mouth of Giovanni’s driveway, and has the skill to take lurid black & white photos of Letizia in action without anyone’s knowledge. (Bugnatelli infers his hasty exits from bedrooms by incomprehensible swish-pans.)

When her enemies are finally gone, she makes sure no one can get their hands on the family’s wealth and property, including her precious teacher.

Sex drifts through multiple genres, ultimately settling on a giallo finale that comes out from between Bugnatelli’s own saddle cheeks, and while his terrible filmmaking skills are amusing for the first 40 mins., it becomes very clear the film will meander for a long, long while before the plot finally clicks into gear and we’re given a deserved resolution to the madness.

Gonella looks more thirty-ish rather than a blossoming teen, and her spastic acting is probably linked to precise directorial instructions, like the repeated performance motif of widening eyes whenever she’s in Evil Mode (which is accentuated by a clumsy mass of extreme close-ups which scream to the audience “Eye! EYE! EYE-EYE-EYE-EYE!!!”), or coughing up yellow bubble bath suds.

Letizia is also capable of hypnotizing men into wanting her or simply losing their concentration, such as the moment Giovanni’s colleague misses his mouth when drinking a glass of water in the film’s truly bizarre restaurant sequence; and she can impose hallucinations, such as a headless corpse to drive poor Micaela insane.

Giovanni is frequently addressed by characters as “Architect,” and either the character or the actor himself believed washing hair was an option rather than a necessity. The fashions and furniture are repulsive (the restaurant décor is hideous), and Bugnatelli maintains a bizarre fetish for showing cars arriving and backing out of the villa’s driveway – footage either designed to ‘open up’ the drama, or because he really liked the sound of cars moving in reverse gear.

If Sex actually contained hot sex scenes, the film would have some sexploitation coin, but Bugnatelli has no idea how to film erotica, so the nudity is cinematically clumsy. Worse, virtually every time a character is hot & bothered and about to engage in proper / improper sex, Bugnatelli has the characters pull away from each other, robbing viewers of their deserved rewards for sticking out to the film’s bitter end.

The director clearly had very little money, because scenes occur either in the villa (a weird place where each bedroom is easily entered using unlocked sliding doors), or in cars where the characters don’t really drive anywhere. A car crash is unsurprisingly filmed without any money shots, since genuine gore and a destroyed auto were beyond the production’s cash supply.

If Sex is reflective of Bugnatelli’s worldview of women, then he regards them as chattel, and as emotionally stable as toddlers; from the dialogue between the wives and husbands, the women are wholly accepting of their husband’s insults, and any state of personal upset is gone if they spot a really pretty, shiny object.

The film isn’t well shot, and scenes are edited in spastic bouts of attention, which perhaps suggests what one sees on the screen is all that was filmed. The wandering of characters in and out of rooms, plus the randomness of scenes affect the pacing, but Bugnatelli’s editorial choices are deliberate, because some of the most jarring edits are covered with score – so this is his definitive version.

Amusingly, Giuliano Sorgini’s score is butchered in the final edit; the most noticeable examples are the cars reversing out of Giovanni’s driveway, or short shots where a music cue begins and ends abruptly on a smash cut to a new scene.

Sorgini (billed as “Maestro Giuliano Sorgini”) wrote just a handful of cues which are re-used in bits & pieces, and the composer’s handful of film credits include exploitation fodder such as The Living Dead in the Manchester Morgue (1974), The Return of the Exorcist / Un urlo nelle tenebre (1975), and Horrifying Experiments of the S.S. Last Days / SS Hell Camp / La bestia in calore (1977), written by Sex’s co-writer, Lorenzo Artale.

The transfer in One 7 Movies’ DVD is apparently comprised of sections from lone surviving prints, many bearing major scratches at the reel changes, and heavy wear marks throughout. The mono sound adequate, but there is one odd moment in the pre-gang-rape scene (when Letizia is lifted onto the Jeep hood before the group drive off) where the frame line drops down, and part of the affected scene is repeated after the flaw is fixed – a small moment that should’ve been edited out in the video master. The subtitles sometimes pop up earlier than necessary, but disappear when the corresponding dialogue is said.

The sole extra is a really trippy trailer, which one suspects may have used up the film’s fee for a real editor to cover the trailer’s pricey superimpositions. Using an outtake of Letizia seducing Giovanni as his wife lies asleep, one can see the dark drapes of the set which weren’t blocked out by stepping down the brightness during film processing. As Letizia approaches in a reddish light, major scenes from the film (all spoilers) appear in squares around Letizia’s action, and the footage is frequently interrupted by repeating a card of the film’s Italian title, ‘Diabolicamente… LETIZIA!’

Sex may be better appreciated under the influence, but it does possess a special fromage factor that connoisseurs of bad cinema will enjoy. Not quite a good-bad film (Malabimba is perhaps the apex of the vengeful hussy sub-genre), but still special enough to warrant a peek, provided one is blessed with a great deal of patience.

This disc marks the film’s first-ever DVD release, and judging by the wear marks, Bugnatelli’s debut must have gotten a lot of play in Italian grindhouse cinemas before disappearing into obscurity.

Bugnatelli’s canon is comprised of five feature films – Sex, Demons and Death / Diabolicamente… Letizia (1975), Scusi eminenza… posso sposarmi? (1975), Mizzzica… ma che è proibitissimo? (1983), Racconto immorale (1989), and Intimo profondo (1989) – after which he reportedly turned to RAI TV.



© 2011 Mark R. Hasan


External References:

IMDB Director Wikipedia EntryComposer Filmography


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