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  Sex of the Witch Gender-bending giallo
Year: 1973
Director: Angelo Pannaccio
Stars: Susanna Levi, Jessica Dublin, Sergio Ferrero, Camille Keaton, Franco Garofalo, Donald O’Brien, Gianni Dei, Augusto Nobile, Maurizio Tanfani, Marzia Damon, Irio Fantini, Annamaria Tornello, Lorrenza Guerreri, Simone Santo, Giovanni Petti
Genre: Horror, Sex, Thriller, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ailing aristocrat Sir Thomas Hilton (Simone Santo) lies narrating less than flattering thoughts about the nephews and nieces gathered around his deathbed. Meanwhile, his sexy housemaid Gloria (Marzia Damon) and bug-eyed butler Tony (Franco Garofalo) are busy shagging in the crypt where their master will soon be buried. Shortly after the old grump kicks the bucket, his faithful secretary Simon (Gianni Dei) reads his will declaring the estate is to be divided equally between Susan (Susanna Levi), her sister Ingrid (Annamaria Tornello) and cousins Edward (Augusto Nobile), Lucy (Lorrenza Guerreri), Nath (Maurizio Tanfani), Johnny (Giovanni Petti) and Ann (Camille Keaton), but that nothing will be set aside for his hated daughter Evelyn (Jessica Dublin) on account of her sheer nastiness and hatred for the Hilton family. The caveat being should any of the assembled heirs meet a premature death, their share will be divided among the survivors. Sure enough, one night, while returning home from a psychedelic orgy, Johnny has his skull bashed in by a mysterious killer. A pompous police Inspector (Donald O’Brien) arrives to investigate, confining everyone to the castle, which conveniently enables the murderer to strike again.

Does a giallo have to make sense to be entertaining? Viewers may well ask themselves that question whilst savouring this sinfully enjoyable Italian oddity. Sex and the Witch assembles a rogues gallery of familiar Euro-horror players: pop star Gianni Dei, who went on to grace the even sleazier Patrick Still Lives (1980), Irish actor Donald O’Brien of Zombie Holocaust (1980) infamy, American actress Jessica Dublin who went from working with Federico Fellini and Luchino Visconti to indulging all manner of unpleasantness in Greek-made Video Nasty Island of Death (1976), and beautiful Camille Keaton, granddaughter of silent screen legend Buster Keaton, who carved her own unique niche as an oft-catatonic horror heroine in the superb What Have You Done to Solange? (1971) and overrated I Spit on Your Grave (1978).

Indulging in mixed messages typical of its genre, condemning youth culture whilst wallowing in its permissiveness, the film gathers the familiar glamorous yet morally murky young studs and sex kittens who bitch and snipe at each other before the killer bumps them off, but punctuates its plot with numerous sex scenes. So frequent are such saucy digressions it would seem solving the mystery is the last thing on anyone’s mind, least of all writer-director Angelo Pannaccio. Pannaccio segued from spaghetti westerns into sexploitation, with notable titles Naked Exorcism (1975) and Porno Erotico Western (1979) in his future, which explains his eagerness to include as many scenes as possible with attractive starlets in a state of undress. Nothing wrong with that per se, though it is a mystery what function Tony and Gloria serve for the story other than getting it on at every opportunity including a threesome with a sexy blonde.

Nevertheless, Pannaccio weaves an eerie aura of mystery while the crumbling castle serves as a creepy location and Daniele Patucchi’s alternately spooky and sublime easy listening score enhances the engagingly off-kilter mood. In classic giallo style, each character harbours a secret: Simon was supposedly Sir Thomas’ gay lover (though we see no evidence of this given he has an affair with one of the nieces), Ingrid is in secret contact with sinister Aunt Evelyn and appears to be a drug addict, but the most reccurent theme is incest. Ostensible heroine Susan (who spends most of her time making erotic sculptures) is having an affair with Edward. Nath harbours an unhealthy attraction to sister Ann (fair enough, she’s Camille Keaton, after all) and is enraged she is cavorting with sibling, Johnny. There are vague ideas about suppressed passions and guilty secrets destroying the family but Patucchi buries these beneath further wild digressions including a visit to a psychedelic orgy with gorgeous naked hippie girls in bizarre headgear grooving to acid rock. However, the Jekyll and Hyde twist involving the killer’s identity is genuinely novel and prefigures the hilarious coda wherein the ever-insatiable Gloria and Tony search desperately for a place to shag only to find each bedroom holds a dead body.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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