The Witchmaker (1969)

JULY 31, 2012


I can credit the kitchen sink nuttiness of Psychomania for keeping me awake through that one, but how the hell did I manage to make it all the way through The Witchmaker as well? Where the other film was insane and kept the crowd laughing, this one was mostly just dull, and I started finding more enjoyment from watching the audience numbers dwindle as it lurched toward its conclusion.

Ironically, they all missed the movie's saving grace, when our heroes (well, the ones that are left) finally spring into action and try to stop the devil cult. Chase scenes, people that are invisible because they have garlic on, naked girls in muddy swamps... it's finally a movie deserving of being paired with Psychomania! There's also a surprising character death and a funny little twist at the end (plus history's strangest "knocked out cold" moment - a guy basically stubs his toe and falls down unconscious), making the final reel worth the effort to get there.

But man, that first 70 minutes or so is a chore. While not completely stripped of entertainment value, as there are a number of strange lines and inept actions (love when the girl comes to refill the heroes' coffees - she pours MAYBE an ounce out for each), it's just so damn tedious. The group arrives, and after explaining why they are stuck there (it's an island in the middle of a swamp, no phone, and the hero idiotically refuses the offer for the boat guy to check in on them halfway through their week's stay), they mostly just sit around talking. Even when the bad guy offs one of their group, it doesn't take long to return to status quo - more talking or sessions with the group's "sensitive".

Not sure if the movie made that one up or if it's a real thing, but it's basically a medium or what have you. The difference is, instead of saying "I see a door, there's a red coat" or whatever, she just calls out coordinates? If it's explained, I missed it (I ran to the bathroom twice; once just to splash water in my face when I noticed I was starting to yawn - at this point I was determined to stay awake), but either way it makes for very uninteresting seance style scenes. No one on screen is particularly engaged by it; the girl just says "98, 87, 92..." or something and someone jots it down. One only lasts like 20 seconds; she says the numbers and then says she's tired and everyone's like "OK, good night all!". Riveting!

Luckily when they leave the house the movie can boast some nice swamp atmosphere (boosted by the lush Technicolor), and we get to spend some time with the far more entertaining villains. There are two primary baddies; one is Luther, who seems like a mute idiot at first but proves to be a formidable (and chatty) foe, one who never forgets to offer a "Hail Satan!" to the goofy statue that represents the Beast. Then there's Jessie, who is an old crone at first but thanks to some mumbo jumbo she thankfully turns into the absolutely stunning Warrene Ott for the rest of the movie. Their conversations are hokey but charming, and things pick up even more when they hold a sabbat and invite a bunch of other witches, who materialize out of thin air.

But it just takes too long for the groups to converge. Luther comes around and kills someone every now and then, but the near total lack of reaction from the hero group makes them weightless, even when hero Alvy Moore tearfully explains that the deceased was one of his favorite students. I also couldn't figure out where the two locations were in relation to each other, so I was curious why they didn't stumble across the cult HQ while they went out looking for their missing colleague early on. Seems like they had an easy opportunity to have them meet up earlier, and failed to take it. Five yard penalty, movie!

Interestingly, whereas I don't think I'd enjoy Psychomania as much at home by myself, I think this one might have IMPROVED from a solo viewing. The atmospheric elements and slow burn pace tend to sit better with me in a more intimate environment, and even if I stayed awake, perhaps my brain was just not up for two movies in a row. Apart from the pace there was nothing really wrong with it - the actors were mostly solid, it looked terrific, and the plot wasn't too cliched, so I'm willing to put this in the "have to be in the right mood" category. Maybe I'll give it another chance someday.

What say you?


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