Family Values in Sex of the Witch (1973) AKA Il Sesso della Strega

Anyone coming from a large family understands the obligations to one’s relatives, as well as the complications that arise from the death of a relative. Families with money however, will inevitably get into arguments about inheritance. The blood relation between people who may have nothing in common and nothing to do with one another is complicated enough, but to dangle the promise of money in the tens and hundreds of thousands contingent only upon a member’s death is to chum up shark-infested waters. We’ve all experienced the drama of our blood relatives, and the murder fantasies associated with them. Sex of the Witch plays right into the hands of shark-infested waters with chum shaped like a family patriarch leaving an inheritance with a grave loophole: the amount divided amongst the siblings left in his wake may be adjusted upwards should one of them die before they reach 30 years old.


Almost immediately, viewers are made aware of Evelyn, a disgraceful woman set on ruining the Hilton family name. Everyone quickly agrees that Evelyn is woman deserving of scorn, with individual anecdotes supplied as evidence. The Hilton name bears weight socially, but amongst its family members it is a cross to bear: “For a Hilton, looking back is like looking forward. There are ghosts everywhere. I don’t know why, but I feel them.” A strange and ominous description to be sure, but it calls to mind the strong presence family retains in anyone’s life, regardless of their physical assembly. The ghosts of family in Sex of the Witch begin to pile up rather quickly after the reading of the will, but can you blame them?

The slow, sensual pace of the film is enough to make you forget its premise between grisly murders, with everything from lesbian sex to rockin’ ragers compelling us away from the secret of the Hiltons and the evil in Evelyn. Despite the film’s frequent use of color, violence, and sex, it retains a dreamlike quality- accompanied by a compelling harpsichord. Sexuality is celebrated within Pannacciò’s creation, even molded out of clay. Lascivious is a good word for it, as well as for giallo. It is a truly enjoyable film, and one I found myself getting lost in easily and often.

A pornographic director as well as horror film director, Angelo Pannacciò spent his entire career in film fighting for the ability to continue his work under difficult economic constraints. Sex of the Witch had trouble with distribution, and every production company he founded subsequently closed about as quickly as they opened. From what I could obtain in the little information publicly available on Pannacciò, he never actually obtained a diploma from his film school. His persistence in years of film despite hardships are inspiring, and the work itself, are truly examples of a life well lived. Pannacciò died in 2001 in his native Italy, and I can only hope he was satisfied with his contribution to giallo filmmaking and consumption.

A disclaimer to my own family: Should this scenario occur, you better hope I don’t get you first.


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