I've seen more than a handful of these 1970s Italian exploitation films since I started at DVDTalk, and most of them are prety atrocious. That's the price of watching movies (from any era) that advertise little more than the promise of some salacious sexuality on the cover. Surprisingly (especially given how horrible Erotic Escape, another One 7 release, is), Sex, Demons and Death actually has a handful of redeeming, interesting elements...even if it can't sustain itself all the way to the finish line.
Marcello (Gabriele Tinti) and Micaela (Magda Konopka) want to have a child, but it seems Micaela has medical issues preventing a pregnancy. Marcello wants to go to Switzerland for more exotic treatments, but Micaela chooses instead to have her niece Letizia (Franca Gonella) brought home from a fancy boarding school to live with them instead (Letizia's mother/Micaela's sister is dead). Unfortunately for Marcello and Micaela, there is something wrong with Letizia, whose presence in their home kicks off a sinister series of disturbing events.
I don't know anything about director Salvatore Bugnatelli, but he quickly works up an unsettling level of dread that pays off in several surprisingly effective scare sequences. Although the movie has a certain level of stilted silliness (like the cutaways during a third-act car crash sequence, or the ridiculously dopey looking Halloween mask one minor but important character pops up wearing), Bugnatelli easily makes the simplest things worth jumping over. A pillow moves by itself. Someone's face appears to change in a split-second cut. In all of the movie's best moments, Bugnatelli provides just enough so the audience gets a glimpse of what is, and then pulls back, allowing the viewer's imagination to go wild with the rest. The movie's rinse-and-repeat method dulls the effectiveness as the story goes on, but I definitely wasn't expecting to find Sex, Demons and Death as scary as it is.
At the same time, the packaging does still promise some salacious sexuality, and Bugnatelli delivers on that front too. Illicit encounters begin to pile up left and right, fueled by Letizia's weird psychokinesis, and Bugnatelli wastes no time in getting Gonella show up naked in approximately every other scene, as well as Konopka, and Karin Fiedler as one of the couple's two live-in servants. Only the "death" part of the title feels slightly undersold, as Bugnatelli only splatters a little bit of blood.
By the time the ending rolls around, Sex, Demons and Death has become a bit obvious, and there isn't much going on except hysterics and scare tactics Bugnatelli has already employed to better effect elsewhere. The movie's final twist is a slight improvement, but the events call out for a bigger sequence and less nail-on-the-head exposition. Still, when the movie works, it's pretty entertaining: if Cinemax had existed in 1975, this is exactly the kind of better-than-expected sleaze they'd have been airing.
A headless set of breasts and legs is meant to entice you to Sex, Demons and Death. Having seen the film, I'm kind of disappointed that one of Gonella's hilarious "psychokinesis" faces wasn't used instead. Inside the case, there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Compared to Erotic Escape (a film that probably presented the same source material challenges for distributor One 7 as Erotic Escape), Sex, Demons and Death is better in a few ways, but much, much worse in others. The serious softness that plagues all of that film is not a problem here, but the print is in much worse condition. There are several scenes where the picture is covered by no less than a storm of nicks and scratches. Personally, watching a film like this, the damage can be sort of endearing, but some of what's visible here is pretty extreme. Less endearing is heavy aliasing, which fluxuates in intensity from scene to scene (cars look the worst), and a couple of instances of a faint but noticeable rhythmic jitter that doesn't seem like ordinary telecine wobble, accompanied "in time" by a subtle fluxation of color. When the jitter occurs, it's actually a tiny bit headache-inducing to watch the film. Luckily, it only happens twice.
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 is pretty good. Dialogue is a touch muffled, but like Erotic Escape, there's good separation of the dialogue from the ambient noise and music. Also similar to that disc, there are a few character-display issues with the subtitle track (where "code" characters will show up rather than the intended ones, like broken HTML or something).
None, other than the film's original theatrical trailer.
For fans of schlock, Sex, Demons and Death might prove a fun rental, but given the film's weak ending and the extremely problematic transfer on the disc, that's about as far as anyone's investment should go.
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