Monday, March 10, 2014

Sex of the Witch (1973)

Witchcraft, tainted family history, and murder mysteries are very agreeable story themes, but writer and director Angelo Pannaccio, hitherto unknown to me, gives these horror hallmarks an attractively perverse edge with Sex of the Witch.

This is one of those films that brings a substantially large group of shady relatives together in a family mansion for the reading of a will, with the inheritance being split equally among the relatives, with an added stipulation that if any beneficiary should die before a certain time, their share must be split among the surviving heirs. Of course this will inevitably create a murderer or two, amongst the family. I’ve seen a similar plot device in a couple other movies, One Body Too Many and Legacy of Blood, but something different with Sex of the Witch is the inclusion of a perverse, evil witch relative with a good measure of hate and malice for the family, which gives what could’ve been a routine plot device a rather demented and supernatural spin.

The problem here is that there are too many unfamiliar characters to keep track of, and some of them kind of look the same. And it does take a while to sort everyone out. The first time around, not really knowing who everyone was, the conversations were a little challenging to follow, but it still wasn't too difficult to get the gist of the plot. I’ve watched it three times now, and I’m pretty confident I’ve got it sorted out. This probably says something about the quality of the film, but despite the confusion, there’s this haunting and dissonant feel to the film that’s still very intriguing.

The methodology of the title witch, Evelyn (Jessica Dublin), is quite novel and twisted. The name Evelyn causes me to recall Emilio Miraglia’s Red Queen gialli, and I can’t help wondering if the common use of the name Evelyn for the villainess in these films is more than coincidental.
Camille Keaton’s presence in this film has probably drawn in a lot of viewers, and though her screen time is rather limited, the times she does appear manage to have an impact. She is in a catatonic state most of the time, which is something she does really well, especially during a climactic scene where she’s shown singing alone in a room, in a trance, but the dialogue is cut out, and all we can hear is organ-laden music. It’s hard to tell if this was an editing mistake, but her lip moving, and the time she blinks her eyes, does seem strangely synchronized with the background music, and it is an eerie and striking moment.

The music is by Daniele Patucchi and it was taken from the C.A.M. film music library (which I think means it was not composed entirely for this movie but was available to be used in other movies, but can anyone tell me what C.A.M. stands for?), and I really did enjoy it in this one, particularly a pleasant Bruno Nicolai-esque lounge tune with a harpsichord and a spooky sounding piece that sounds the same played forwards as it does played backwards, like Ennio Morricone’s theme to Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome.

A washed out looking nightclub sequence, shot with an overpowering sepia tone, interrupts the film, but it really pushes the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll theme, accentuating a moral decline that may be analogous to the ‘shameful’ nature of the Hilton family and its detriment by the will of an evil witch, as some of the dancers do look a little like ceremonial witches. Although it’s hard to see what’s going on during the nightclub scene, it’s still very sexy and a definite highlight.

Some may not buy into the weird and offbeat twists at the end, but I was impressed. I thought a little of Sleepaway Camp, but without that movie’s effective shock, during an amusing closing scene that ends on a freeze frame that left me cackling madly, just like the butler. 

Sex of the Witch is a supernatural giallo from the golden era of Eurocult, and it feels like it. It’s one of those movies that you can tell isn’t very well made, but it still has this ability to sink deep into your cerebral cortex and become somewhat of an obsession.

© At the Mansion of Madness


  1. I gotta say, I giggled when I saw this in my news feed. This film is just so damn weird. It has no pretenses of being good; shameless surreal sleaze with a nice Gothic backdrop. Everything about it is so shady, Camille Keaton once asked a cast member if they knew what the film was about and even they had no idea! There's also a rumour that Angelo Pannaccio had connections with the mafia (!). I'm not familiar with his work but it seems most of it is porn except for the Exorcist rip-off, Cries and Shadows. He married and divorced two of the actresses in this film (Jessica Dublin and Susanna Levi) as well as Magherita Horowitz (one of the teachers in Suspiria).

    The Gothic setting is definitely the film's strong point. I love the opening monologue where the patriarch is dying and he curses his heirs while the servants have sex, it's oddly poetic in a way. The servants were definitely my favourite characters, they reminded me of Riff-Raff and Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show! I'm always hypnotised by the drug party and now that you mention it, the dancers do look pretty witchy with those cool headdresses. Of course, my favourite scene would have to be that bit where Camille Keaton "sings" along to the organ. I have no words for it except "what???". What's also weird is that Giovanni Petrucci (Fred from Tragic Ceremony) is credited as "Johnny" but I don't know which one he is due to how indistinct the characters are.

    I really like the Gothic giallo sub-genre. Some people think they're boring and flawed but they fascinate me to no end and I would like to see more. I've yet to see Seven Deaths in a Cat's Eye and Death Smiles on a Murderer (is that one a giallo?).

    1. I’ve been meaning to review both of these films you mention. Death Smiles on a Murderer is a pretty good era piece that has shades of The Black Cat and Joe D’Amato’s Beyond the Darkness. I like to think of it as a supernatural giallo. I remember it being so hard to find, but I was pleased with it, sleazy, stylish, and Gothic. Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye has a similar feel to it as Sex of the Witch, but it is probably not quite as shady. I remember a gorilla in a cage and not being all that impressed with who the killer turned out to be. By the way, I’ve caught wind of a gothic German one with Janine Reynaud and Howard Vernon in it, called Castle of the Creeping Flesh, made around the same time as Succubus and by the same film company, and it’s supposed to be quite dreamy. I’m looking forward to finally seeing that one.

      Yes, I think that shady description you mention about Sex of the Witch probably explains the dissonant feel I mentioned. I think that mirrored music theme might have something to do with it too, as it did make me feel uneasy in its similar sounding incarnation in The Stendhal Syndrome.

      There were a couple conversations that still leave me a little puzzled, like the one in the car after the funeral and later when Susan mentions receiving a scar from Ingrid (I’m assuming this is foreshadowing the shadiness of Aunt Evelyn and her connection to Ingrid). I can only imagine how confused the actors might’ve been while filming this. Yeah, the film doesn’t introduce the characters very well (I was always so distracted by the butler and the maid copulating in the mausoleum when all of the key characters are surrounding the dying patriarch at the beginning, so perhaps my brain didn’t properly process them all), and I’m having a hard time remembering who Johnny is.

      I’ve put the movie on, and he is the one with the long black hair and the pasty face. Heh heh, this could be a number of characters ;) But to be specific, he was the one that gets bludgeoned by the medieval weapon after the decadent night club scene (the second screen grab from the top), and was Keaton’s character’s love interest.

      Thanks for the interesting trivia regarding Angelo Pannaccio (Gotta love that font effect when the director’s name is introduced during the credits).

    2. Wow, I need to check out Castle of Creeping Flesh. It does look quite dreamy. After finding "Piu tardi Claire, piu tardi...", I'm curious about much of Janine Reynaud's filmography at that time period. There's a German film she did called "Wie kurz ist die Zeit zu lieben" which stars Michel Lemoine and Pier Caminnecci (the playboy in Succubus).

      Regarding the conversation in the car, I believe the topic was about how the heirs hate that Simon, the patriarch's young gay lover/secretary is getting a share of the inheritance. They consider him disgraceful yet they are even worse since they regularly engage in incest. Oddly, Simon is later shown having sex with women making his homosexuality somewhat redundant (either he's bisexual, just pretending to be gay to get Hilton's cash, or the writers forgot).

      I just checked the Italian Wikipedia and found out that Giovanni Petrucci's IMDb filmography was mistakenly merged with Giovanni Petti's (hence why I couldn't find Petrucci anywhere). I'll see if I can get IMDb to fix that.

  2. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 14, 2014 at 6:32 PM

    I want to bugger Abigail Breslin.

  3. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 15, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    Would you agree that when Pauline Hickey was 17 in 1985 she was THE most incredible bird of all-time ! ?.

  4. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 16, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    Giovanni, What kind of porn do you like ?, i prefer the Windows Vista Media Centre clips, the same 5 or 6 thrusts of the dick in and out of the birds bum over and over again or the same 5 or 6 squirts of spunk into the birds gob over and over again, somehow i find it easier to jerk-off to the repetition of those clips rather than watching the entire movies, perhaps because the clips essentially represent and constitute such beautifully encapsulated and perfectly modulated masturbation-aids par-excellence (as it were), where-as the complete movies can be much more eratic in their content both with regards to actual quality and type of scene on veiw. Also of course another major plus and bonus with regards to the best of the clips is that you never have to worry about a loathsome and hideous blokes arse suddenly coming into the shot and spoiling your wank.

  5. "This is one of those films that brings a substantially large group of shady relatives together in a family mansion for the reading of a will, with the inheritance being split equally among the relatives, with an added stipulation that if any beneficiary should die before a certain time, their share must be split among the surviving heirs."

    I love the way you put that, because it's such a familiar plot frame, regardless of what type of films you frequent. It's also such an amusing framework, no matter if it's done well or poorly, in my opinion. I haven't seen Sex of the Witch or One Body Too Many, but I love that plot, so I will certainly watch both as soon as possible!

    As always a spectacular writeup Giovanni. I've strayed from Eurocult for far too long recently and I really need to get back to it. It's like a warm blanket, lol.

    Side note: I've been basically absent for months now, but I'm getting back into it, so I swear I'll be around here frequently again! Pardon my absence... and now I'll be spending some time catching up on your blog :)

    1. No worries, Jonny. I've been super busy myself, running behind on keeping up with my preferred cadence for this blog. Thank you for your compliments, and I'll see you around.

  6. The opening scene between maid and butler is hot (and other erotic scenes did not appeal to me much). Camille Keaton’s catatonic episode is disturbing indeed. Otherwise it is hard to highlight something else in this movie which seemed rather boring to me. One shall be true cinema lover to watch it three times in order to get everything sorted out!

    1. Yes, I know what you mean. Part of committing to a film for review gives me incentive to watch it multiple times and really explore it further.