Diabolicamente... Letizia (1975) arrived at my doorstep on DVD, unexpectedly. The film, released under English-language title, Sex, Demons and Death, is a One 7 release. I must have dumped the film into my Amazon basket, ordered it, and forgot about it. I’ve given it a spin and am here to tell you all about it.
Architect Marcello Martinozzi (Gabriele Tinti) is married to Micaela (Magda Konopka). They are unable to conceive a child, and as a result Micaela suffers from depression with occasional bouts becoming severe. Micaela wants to remove her sister’s daughter, Letizia (Franca Gonella), from her boarding school and locate her to Marcello and Micaela’s villa. Micaela wants to raise Letizia as their daughter, despite Marcello noting that Letizia is no longer a child. The teenage girl arrives as the Martinozzi ward to the villa, and immediately, the entire household embraces an open dysfunction—everyone, including the servants, have almost sex (a term explained below), and Micaela’s depression worsens to madness.
Diabolicamente... Letizia seems a hybrid of two films which take aim at boo-gee values, The Exorcist (1973) and Pasolini’s Teorema (1968). Letizia becomes a willing catalyst for destruction of the family, exposing middle-class values as a house of cards. Unfortunately, Diabolicamente... Letizia does not have quite a film grasp on its own execution. The film is not campy nor is it sensational (unless nudity bothers the viewer). All of the would-be sensational material results in teasing: Letizia possesses a diabolical power which allows her to control others. She only uses this power temporarily. Her typical scheme is to engage say the manservant, Giovanni (Gianni Dei), or the maid into a sexual scenario with Micaela. When the two are about to have sex, she ends her power. Micaela pushes the other way, incensed, and summons the other away. Letizia does this herself with Giovanni and the maid (I apologize I do not know this actress’s name). She begins to seduce one or the other and immediately stops and scolds the other for trying to take advantage of her. I do not understand director Salvatore Bugnatelli’s motivation in this regard. It appears as if he wants to make an erotic film yet does not want to make Diabolicamente, a film of the erotic ghetto. I believe Bugnatelli admired Friedkin’s film in its ability to show shocking sensational material yet still retain its credibility as a drama. Pasolini, of course, was not concerned with such labels. Save Tinti, none of his actors are quite capable of making Diabolicamente the drama that Bugnatelli wants it to be. To the actors’ credit, the script is poor. So the almost sex makes it an almost genre film, and the lack of direction and poor script make it an almost drama.
Gabriele Tinti, as Marcello, is the only actor with whom I am familiar. Despite the fact that I must have seen hundreds of Italian genre films, none of the other participants are as memorable as Tinti. The handsome actor left quite a legacy in film. Within Diabolicamente, he shows his obvious talent and charisma, despite the ridiculous scenario. Not surprisingly, his character arc is the most interesting. Letizia is able to successfully seduce Marcello (they do not have almost sex). Not only does she seduce his body, but Letizia is able to influence his spirit. She convinces him to rethink his conservative lifestyle: she drags him to a dance club to his dismay and convinces him to purchase a prize of male virility, a hot motorcycle. By the beginning of the third act, it appears that Marcello is ready to embrace the coquettish young lady and forget his ailing wife. Of course, the plot of Diabolicamente will not let him do so, because the young lady is actually diabolical, and Marcello genuinely loves his wife.
Diabolicamente is quite boring, because it exists on a liminal plane: it’s too afraid to be erotic and not capable of being dramatic. The filming style does not appear to be professional, either. However, this is not a deterrent. Despite the fact that most of the compositions are not classical, some arresting ones are included. Of note are the compositions which play with the foreground and background. Overall, the visual style flows more from fear or conservatism, just like its narrative.
I have to give kudos to One 7 for releasing Diabolicamente on DVD. If I had to speculate, the lack of English audio on the disc makes me believe an English audio track was never recorded. Perhaps the film saw no export sales which led to its obscurity. Perhaps, also, the lack of notable participants, save Tinti, led to its obscurity. Perhaps, finally, Diabolicamente is just shitty and no one wanted to see it. Except me. However, anyone that reads Quiet Cool regularly knows that I like to take risks on curious cinema. It just didn’t pan out successfully this time.