Friday, July 15, 2016

Needed On Blu-ray: THE SEX OF ANGELS (1968)

It's directed by the author of MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN (Ugo Liberatore), co-scripted by the screenwriter of THE TIN DRUM (Franz Seitz), and scored by the composer for L'AVVENTURA and L'ECLISSE (Giovanni Fusco) - it's THE SEX OF ANGELS (Il sesso degli angeli, 1968), a forgotten Italian thriller filmed smack-dab on the cusp of the cinema's late Sixties advent into maturity. 

As you can see from the half-sheet poster above, it had a US release through Lopert Pictures; it was distributed through United Artists. Note how the ad campaign makes similar use of the sort of crazy, sing-songy, psychopathic blather than made TWISTED NERVE so endearing around the same time ("Cleaver, cleaver. Chop, chop. First the Mom and then the Pop. And then we'll get the little Girl. We'll get her right between the curl." - That'll pack 'em in!). Also adding to the intrigue of this discovery is that THE SEX OF ANGELS was one of the earliest US releases to receive an X rating. The film itself doesn't contain any imagery that would be considered graphic today - just a flash or two of breast nudity by a couple of sunbathers, no more. However, the story itself maintains a teasingly adult tone, an edge that has somehow remained sharp over the decades. 
Rosemarie Dexter, Bernard de Vries, Doris Kunstmann topless at the wheel.
It's the story of three beautiful, young and indolently wealthy young women (Doris Kunstmann as Nora, Rosemarie Dexter as Nancy, and Laura Troschel as Carla) who decide, for initially unclear reasons, to kidnap a young man to accompany them as they abscond with Nora's father's yacht for a weekend off the coast of Yugoslavia. Nancy - the really bad news of the bunch - chooses a medical student named Marco (Bernard de Vries - imagine William Berger and John Phillip Law put in a blender) to accompany them, teasing him sexually and promising him the full pay-off if he tags along. He does, only to discover that Nancy - whom he catches sleeping with the virginal Carla - is either gay, bi or frigid... either way, a disappointment once she finally makes good on their deal. Rosemarie Dexter, a discovery of Riccardo Freda (who cast her as his Juliet in 1962's Giulietta e Romeo) whom Jess Franco had originally sought to play the lead in his 1968 film MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE (and ended up playing a minor supporting role), provides the dramatic core of the film, lending deadly colorations to a character who, sadly and despite an obviously padded length, is never fully explored.

Rosemarie Dexter as Nancy.
After the disappointment of Nancy, and toying with the more clearly gay Nora, Marco focuses his attentions on Carla, who disappoints him again by announcing that she is saving her virtue for a "Negro," for the simple reason that she wants to shock people with the story of her deflowering for years to come! As night falls on the Adriatic, the secret purpose of the ladies' illicit voyage is finally revealed: they intend to experiment with LSD! Before the sugar cubes are ingested, the party lock themselves inside - they've heard stories about people jumping out of windows - and, because they've also heard that trippers often suffer amnesia about their experiences, they decide to record the proceedings on Daddy's reel-to-reel machine.

The acid party.
The preliminaries prepare us for highlights and plot twists that never really happen. The locked room aspect doesn't play into the mystery element that follows, surprisingly enough. Also, we don't get the expected LSD sequence - there are no distorted lens revels or light show effects whatsoever. Instead, in a twist that anticipates Mario Bava's 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON by a couple of years, we immediately cut to the next woozy morning when everyone awakens, suffering from amnesia, to the sound of the tape reel flapping. We expect Marco to discover one of the young women dead - but it is in fact Marco who has been shot in the abdomen with a pellet gun. The injury isn't bad enough to have killed him, but the consequences will be serious if he isn't taken to hospital immediately. Only the tape can reveal who shot Marco.

How to deal with a wounded medical student?
 I'll leave the details of the story there, but as you can see, THE SEX OF ANGELS is both an unusual Italian thriller for this period, and of particular interest for the elements it shares in common with other Italian thrillers that followed, notably the Bava film and also Ottavio Alessi's TOP SENSATION (1969). It's also a worthy addition to that select group of psychological thrillers set on the open sea.

An early example of the "He's not dead yet" surprise grabs.

Add to all of this an outstanding score by Giovanni Fusco that (rather like Bernard Herrmann's score for TWISTED NERVE) runs a shared theme through an impressive series of generic interpretations - from classical and folk, to pop, rock and jazz - and you get a lovely-to-watch, borderline kinky ride that, yes, teases a good deal more than it delivers, but is no less entertaining for that. Considering that I'd never heard of this film before, I was surprised by its level of quality, which is enhanced by the excellent Technicolor/Techniscope cinematography of Leonida Barboni (THE WITCH IN LOVE), the natural scenic beauty of the locations and cast, and an excellent post-sync track that confirms that all the actors spoke English on-set, some phonetically.

Definitely worthy of resurrection on Blu-ray. Until then, check your favorite streaming and torrent providers.

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