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Plot: Angela doesn’t like her new stepmother…

Peccati di gioventù (or Sins Of Youth, released in North America as So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… for some reason) is one of the better Gloria Guida melodramas. If Guida had never made To Be Twenty (1978) with Fernando Di Leo this, along with That Malicious Age (1975) a year later, would probably be considered some of her finest work. There’s no question that it stands head and shoulders above the futile sex comedies that Guida made a living with. Not only is So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… better written and beautifully photographed, it actually gives glorious Gloria something to do and the chance to act every once in a while. Guida wasn’t too shabby of an actress when, and if, she was allowed to do more than just take her clothes off. Here she gets that chance. Silvio Amadio was crazy about Gloria and it isn’t hard to see why… So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is for those who can’t stomach Gloria’s regular raunchy sex comedies.

As an Italian precursor to French drama The Year of the Yellyfish (1984) So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is a prime example of the youth gone bad thriller subgenre that experienced somewhat of a revival with infinitely lesser American imitations as Poison Ivy (1992), and The Crush (1993) and in the new millennium with French director François Ozon and his Swimming Pool (2003) with Charlotte Rampling, and Ludivine Sagnier. So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… falls smackdab in the middle between the innocuous The Minor (1974), and the equally tragic That Malicious Age (1975). One thing is painfully obvious: Amadio’s best days were clearly behind him. As utilitarian and occasionally beautifully photographed as So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is, he was a very long way from the masterclass in suspense and sleaze that was Amuck (1972). Silvio Amadio would work with his muse one last time on The Doctor… The Student (1976). As slick and hyper-stylized as his gialli were so matter-of-fact and stilted are these.

Angela Batrucchi (Gloria Guida) loves her father. She loves her doctor father (Silvano Tranquilli) so much that she’s none too pleased that he has found a new lover in Irene (Dagmar Lassander). She’s so incensed and overcome by incestual longing with the whole situation that she schemes with her boyfriend Sandro Romagnoli (Fred Robsahm) to drive a wedge between the two. Since Sandro moonlights as a gigolo and has an older lover (Dana Ghia, as Felicita Ghia) on the side Angela orders him to seduce Irene. While Sandro is busy doing that Angela decides to dig into Irene’s past to find something, anything that she can use to blackmail her into doing her bidding. With a little sleuthing Angela uncovers that Irene had a lesbian phase in college, and decides to use that to her advantage. She plans to provide Sandro with the perfect opportunity to collect incriminating photographic evidence of Irene’s fluid sexual preferences.

For no other reason than to drive Irene completely mad Angela starts acting erratically and will fly into fits of apoplectic rage without the slightest provocation. Somehow Irene finds a way of dealing with Angela’s unpredictable and sudden moodswings. When Sandro’s plans to lure Irene into bed with him don’t pan out Angela figures that her stepmother’s lesbian inclinations are something worth exploiting. In short order Angela shows her naughty slides from her and her girl friends on vacation, randomly undresses in front of her, and showers with the door wide open. When all of that fails to have the desired effect, Angela invites Irene over to the beach where they engage in heavy petting while Sandro captures everything on photo with his camera. In her desperation Angela tries to drive Irene off the road when she spots her in town. That is the final straw, and Irene’s spirit breaks. After being locked up in her room Angela has a moment of introspection, and realizes how much damage she has caused. By that point Irene has driven off in tears, is there time for Angela to turn the tide?

Director Silvio Amadio was something of a late-bloomer. He worked his way through the obligatory comedy, adventure, peplum, spaghetti western, and melodrama features before he started to develop any sort of recognizable individual style. By all accounts Amadio seems to have been a fairly standard Italian exploitation director until around 1970. Up to that point (the late sixties) Amadio’s oeuvre had contained its fair amount of sex and social dysfunction, but neither came together quite as exuberantly as they did in Amuck (1972) (with Rosalba Neri, and Barbara Bouchet). Amadio had always been a major creative force behind the screenplays for his films, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what led to the sudden creative upsurge. One possible reason could be the permissive social mores directly following the sexual revolution, the availability of actresses will doing to do nudity – or, both. Although the latter doesn’t hold up to much scrutiny as Island Of the Swedes (1969) had Catherine Diamant doing pretty much every iconic scene that Gloria Guida would later popularize through her work with Amadio. On first glance it seems Amadio’s entire reputation as a cult director is solely built on the back of the gialli Amuck (1972) and Smile Before Death (1972). The general consensus is that Amadio’s tenure with Guida signaled a creative downslope, something which a cursory back-to-back viewing of Amuck (1972) and Smile Before Death (1972) with any of the Guida titles certainly seems to corroborate. Which amounts to him being interesting for about two years before the inevitable decline.

Even though she was only a fixture in lowbrow commedia sexy all’Italiana for about a good 8 years Gloria worked with some of the absolute best in the business. She debuted in Mario Imperoli’s coming of age tale Monika (1974) and he launched Guida’s world-famous ass to superstardom with his Blue Jeans (1975). However it was Silvio Amadio who showed the world with The Minor (1974) that glorious Gloria could be a dramatic actress provided that the material was written to her strengths. Arguably it was Michele Massimo Tarantini who ensured Guida’s cinematic immortality with La Liceale (1975) and Mariano Laurenti kept her employed through the obligatory sequels. Once again it was Amadio who allowed Gloria to spread her wings in terms of acting a bit. Both So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… and That Malicious Age (1975) were tragedies disguised as bawdy sex comedies. One thing was clear: Silvio loved la Guida, and she’s on display in full ornate here. Amadio wastes absolutely no time in getting Gloria out of what little clothes she wears, lovingly photographing every inch of her body, and reveling in every moment that she’s in the frame. Which is a really polite way of saying that there’s plenty of naked shenanigans involving our girl Gloria. That doesn’t mean it’s crass, or vulgar – it’s tasteful, and retroactively kind of meta.

The other big stars here are Dagmar Lassander and Silvano Tranquilli. Lassander was a redhead, and a contemporary of Helga Liné, Betsabé Ruiz, Rosanna Yanni, Silvia Tortosa, Cristina Galbó, Erika Blanc, Sandra Julien, and Malisa Longo. Lassander can be seen in Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970), The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1971), The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire (1971), a pair of Alfonso Brescia sex comedies, and The House by the Cemetery (1981). Tranquilli for about a decade was a pillar of domestic gothic horror appearing alongside Barbara Steele in The Horrible Secret of Dr. Hichcock (1962), Castle Of Blood (1964), and the gialli Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971), The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971), and Smile Before Death (1972). In comparison to both Lassander and Tranquilli, Fred Robsahm was a nobody with only the Bud Spencer-Terence Hill western spoof Carambola (1974) (cos only the Italians would make a spoof of a spoof), and the Roger Vadim fumetti Barbarella (1968).

Perhaps Amadio felt ownership over Gloria because he helped shape her career so significantly? It was 1975 and Guida was at the height of her popularity and from here her career, both as a singer and as an actress, could only go downward. She was twenty, and had spurned his advances. How else to recover from that than to make a movie about it? In the most simplest terms So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… is about a hedonistic socialite who sends a spurned older lover into suicidal despair after rejecting their advances. It all feels strangely autobiographical considering the circumstances, and it’s almost as if Amadio was directly talking to Guida in his script. That Malicious Age (1975) merely changed the settings and cut down the slapstick but it was, more or less, So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… - and it too ended in tragedy. It was Fernando Di Leo who really distilled the commedia sexy all’Italiana formula candy girls as Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati specialized in, and used the format to deliver a scathing condemnation of the patriarchal – and sexual mores of Italian society at the time. In 1981 Gloria met crooner Johnny Dorelli, and retired soon after. Guida married Dorelli in 1991, and Silvio Amadio, age 69 and 24 films in total, passed away four years later, in 1995.

Plot: religious hysteria leads to the persecution of a libertine herbalist.

Spoken about in hushed tones of reverence by those in the know Il Demonio (or The Demon, internationally) is another example of just how revolutionary Italian cinema was during its Golden Age. Written and directed by Federico Fellini protegé Brunello Rondi Il Demonio (The Demon hereafter) is a socio-realist examination of religious mania and the oppression of patriarchal institutions in rural communities. Of how small-town superstition and religious hysteria lead to the persecution and lynching of an innocent outcast in a sleepy village in the south of Italy. There’s a distinct feminist undertone to The Demon. At every turn Purificazione is beset and besieged by men in positions in power, be they clergymen, police, or landowners. And with every fiber of her being she fights back. No wonder The Demon was deemed controversial upon release and condemned by the powers that be. What To Be Twenty (1979) was to the seventies, The Demon was to the sixties.

Brunello Rondi was an intellectual that wrote about 30 screenplays and directed 10 films himself. Gian Luigi Rondi, his brother, was a well-known and respected film critic at the time. Rondi was prone to imbue his screenplays with scathing social commentary and was critical of the church just as much as he was of the state. Rondi was the man behind Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), Boccaccio 70 (1962), (1963), Juliet Of the Spirits (1965), and Fellini Satyricon (1969). Besides Fellini, Rondi also was frequently employed in providing screenplays for Roberto Rossellini. While his directorial career was off to a flying start with the iconoclastic The Demon he quickly fell into the trap of exploitation and puerile comedy. The lowest he would sink was Black Velvet (1976), one of the many lesser derivates following the box office success of Joe D’Amato’s softcore classic Black Emanuelle (1975) with the Javanese queen of fondling, Laura Gemser. In July 1965 Rondi was interviewed in the Paese Sera newspaper by a young columnist, and film critic for various magazines, who moonlighted as a screenwriter. The young man was working with Bernardo Bertolucci on a screenplay for the Sergio Leone spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). That man was Dario Argento.

Just like The Witch (1966) three years later The Demon is a highly atmospheric slowburn of a movie that even several decades later still manages to shock. Wonderfully minimalist and with mesmerizing black and white photography it’s an indictment of religion (Christianity, in particular) and the kind of small-town superstition and callous prejudice that it breeds. The Demon was filmed during the Second Vatican Council and released mere months after the passing of Pope John XIII. No wonder then that it was condemned by the Vatican, and panned by god-fearing critics on grounds of alleged “anti-Catholic” sentiments. While thankfully reappraised in more recent times the influence of The Demon is felt to this day.

Without The Demon there wouldn’t have been Witchfinder General (1968) (and the entire Inquisition fad that followed), it was a key inspiration behind Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) (and thus was a direct influence on the nascent giallo murder mystery branch). Interestingly, future giallo specialist Luciano Martino is one of the producers and he recruited his brother Sergio as second assistant director. Finally, and perhaps more imporantly, the most memorable scenes that made William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) (based on the 1971 William Peter Blatty novel of the same name) a fright classic for the ages premiered here first. What that means is that The Demon shaped the American property that would spawn an entire cotton industry (the demonic possession subgenre) back home in Italy. The Demon has influenced so many horror subgenres in such profound ways that it’s criminal how few have actually seen it.

In a mountain village somewhere in the south of Italy lives the sexually liberated herbalist Purificazione (Daliah Lavi). Purif is madly in love with farmer Antonio (Frank Wolff) but he spurns her advances as he’s promised to another (Rossana Rovere). Desperate to be loved Purificazione reverts to elemental witchcraft to win the heart of her object of affection. Living on the outskirts of town and perrenially clad in black Puri is the talk of the town and an outcast in her own community. Antonio is married to his promised woman and Purificazione is summarily rebuffed when she tries to barge in on the wedding ceremony. Purif is a woman in love. Madly. Deeply so. She casts the evil eye upon Antonio’s matrimony in hopes that he would return to her. When a mountainside ritual to win his affections doesn’t bring the desired result she resorts to stalking his home and spooking sentries and onlookers with the cadavers of recently deceased small animals. The village sees Purif’s increasingly unhinged behavior as a threat to the communal peace. The women consider her a harlot and some of the men think she’s possessed by a demon. The town has its own spiritual traditions and customs and Purificazione sinks deeper into madness. When chants and tokens no longer keep Purif at bay, the villagers agree that drastic measures need to be taken…

On one of her amourous escapades Purificazione is raped by a shepherd and violently “exorcised” by faith healer Zio Giuseppe (Nicola Tagliacozzo). Just for the crime of being a woman in love. Tired of all the abuse Purif is taken in by a group of nuns. For a while things seem to be looking up for Purificazione, but when she inquires after the history of a tree from which a man hung himself the relationship with her hosts turns sour. The nuns line the tree with barb wire and images of the Madonna, Purificazione reacts aversely to the sight of rosary beads and is banished from the convent. In the cathedral Padre Tomasso (Giovanni Cristofanelli) compels the demon to leave her body. Instead Purif speaks in tongues, spits the priest in the face, and spiderwalks her way across the floor as increasingly frightened parishioners look on. As the superstitious villagers pray for fortunate weather and crops, Purificazione hangs out in a tree eating an apple. Then Antonio shows up that night and the two succumb to the throes of passion. At long last her wish has to come true… Now that Purificazione has the man of her dreams, the only question is: at what cost will these affections come?

And what can you really say about Daliah Lavi? She was one of the great leading ladies of the Golden Age of Italian cinema along with Rosanna Schiaffino, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, and Claudia Cardinale. She was as patrician as Barbara Steele, Helga Liné, Graziella Granata, and Amalia Fuentes – and she has done just about everything. Daliah was multi-lingual (she was fluent in Hebrew, English, German, French, Italian and Spanish) and at various points in her life Lavi was a ballet student, an Israeli soldier, and part of the international jetset as a moviestar. She received a Golden Globe for most promising newcomer for Two Weeks In Another Town (1962) and starred in the Mario Bava giallo The Whip and the Body (1963). She was in the Karl May adaptation Old Shatterhand (1964) (from Hugo Fregonese) and in the spoof Casino Royale (1967) as well as the Bulldog Drummond spycaper Some Girls Do (1969) with Richard Johnson. Lavi acted in serious productions as well as a fair amount of pulp, and when her acting career winded down she reinvented herself as a pop singer. With help from Jimmy Bowien, the man at Polydor, Lavi enjoyed success in Germany – and the man who had discovered The Beatles and produced The Monks, Olivia Newton-John and Georges Moustaki had provided her with the platform that she could do more than just act.

Not to belabor the point any more than necessary but Hollywood always was, is, and continues to be, behind on European cinema. This especially rang true in the sixties and seventies when countries like Germany, France, and East-Europe (especially Russia and Czechslovakia) were responsible for some of the most revolutionary works in cinema. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) will forever remain, and be remembered as, an undiluted classic of American horror cinema, but there’s no denying that it loses some of its luster with the knowledge that some of its more memorable scenes were seen here first. If you know where to look shades of both The Demon and The Witch (1966) can be seen in Anna Biller’s retro nouveau masterpiece The Love Witch (2016) and Samantha Robinson is at least as beguiling as Daliah Lavi and/or Rosanna Schiaffino. Anybody with even the slightest and passing historical interest in continental European horror cinema has no excuse not to seek out The Demon. Since this came from a different time the horror is frequently more implied than shown. The Demon was a tipping point in Italian horror cinema and pivotal in the development of the genre. I Vampiri (1957) was the first Italian horror film of the sound era, and during the gothic horror craze of the sixties The Demon offered a more measured and realistic alternative.