(1963, Italy, original title IL DEMONIO)
For years, I only knew Daliah Lavi as the sensual, secret agent 'James Bond' in Casino Royale (1967) - to be fair, everyone in the film is called James Bond. But she has some great scenes, especially when she's up against ineptly villainous Woody Allen, whilst completely naked. If you've not seen it, she's also well known (to horror fans) for Mario Bava's The Whip and the Body (1963) opposite Christopher Lee.
The extensive Video Watchdog interview (in issue 170) with her surprised me when they discussed at length another Italian horror film where she plays a possessed woman who performs a backbending spider walk ten years earlier than Regan in The Exorcist.
This alone made it a must-see for me, and while I wasn't expecting an unbridled exorcism shocker, The Demon has a consistent, unique quality and plenty of harsh surprises. Shortly after reading about the film, a subtitled version appeared on YouTube. This was lucky, as the film has only been available on DVD in Italy without English subtitles (above). That's a shame because it's quite mesmerising as well as Daliah's favourite of her many screen performances.
Set in a remote Italian farming village, Puri is very unhappy that the love of her life is marrying another woman. She tries simple, elemental witchcraft to gain his affections. She performs a ceremony high on the cliffs above the church while he gets married to try and curse the couples' good luck. She stalks their home on wedding night, using dead animals to distract the guards. Is she possessed? Is she a witch? Is she mentally unbalanced?
Dressed in black, her defiant appearance and physical presence simply doesn't fit in. The villagers even believe she's a blight on their crops. They use a local faith healer to try and cast out the demon in her. His private ceremony involves trussing her up and then he takes advantage of her.
Throughout the story, many try to cure her, usually with disproportionate violence. As her behaviour becomes more and more extreme, their methods also escalate.
The superstitious villagers use simple chants and tokens to ward her off, though her behaviour looks just as much like a distraught woman having a breakdown. Though her spider walk in a cathedral and her violent reaction to nuns and rosary beads appears to be a demonic possession.
The film has an episodic, semi-documentary look and sometimes not much explanation to link the abrupt change between locations or to examine the implications of what has just happened. But her extraordinary performance and the spectacular rural locations make this uniquely memorable.
Reading her VW interview again, this was based on a true story and Daliah met the girl she was playing! Director Brunello Rondi, a scriptwriter for Fellini, had her acting amongst (unprepared) real people in real locations, which makes it even more interesting.