FTP: The Witches (1966)

APRIL 10, 2019


Maybe from now on I'll stay away from anything Hammer made in 1966. I like Plague of the Zombies OK but it's partially my nostalgia driving that one (first one I saw), but The Reptile was possibly my least favorite and now The Witches gets pretty close to that territory as well. On paper it sounds fine (incidentally, it's adapted from a book), telling a Wicker Man-ish story of a lady taking a job as a schoolteacher in a town where everyone is "off", but the movie never has a pulse until its final ten minutes, and that stuff isn't scary or thrilling - it's just ridiculous, which is an improvement over "plodding", sure, but certainly isn't what anyone would probably want when they sat down for a Hammer movie about witches.

Things are amiss almost instantly. The film begins in Africa, where our protagonist Gwen (Joan Fontaine) is desperately trying to escape from some approaching witch doctors, due to events we're not fully privy to. The masked doctors crash through the door and approach her, seemingly to kill her, and then the movie fades to credits, only to come back in England where she's meeting about the schoolteacher job - she's apparently just a bit rattled by her experience that seemed to suggest she was about to be murdered. I actually spent a chunk of the runtime thinking maybe she was dead and this was some kind of Jacob's Ladder kind of deal, but as the movie dragged along I realized that would be too exciting a conclusion for this particular story.

Oddly enough, the most fun I got out of the disc was the historian commentary by Ted Newsom (the package says he'd be joined by Constantine Nasr, but while Mr. Nasr is mentioned a few times he's not there). I tend to find most of these a bit too dry for my liking when they're solo, but Newsom doesn't seem to think too highly of the movie either, so instead of rattling off filmographies and mildly amusing anecdotes from the production he's actually just kind of complaining about it half the time. He rightfully lambasts the inexplicable decision to include an amnesia detour at around the film's 50 minute mark (tellingly for how dull the movie is, Newsom says it happens 90 minutes in - clearly it just felt that way, since the movie is only 90 minutes long entirely), notes how "dowdy" everyone looks every few minutes, and laughs at some of its rare attempts at suspense. He also doesn't seem to be reading from notes the whole time, another thing that made it more lively than some others.

I should note that this is a recent "pile" acquisition; it only came to disc like three weeks ago. The problem with this new experiment is that more stuff keeps coming in, so I'm trying to balance it between newer arrivals and ones that have literally gotten dust on them because they've been there so long. I hope you guys don't mind the shorter reviews, but honestly for movies like this I don't think I could find enough to say to make it standard length, so I'd probably end up saying nothing and this site would be a ghost town that much longer. It took me five attempts to watch it because I kept dozing off; it was only the allure of the Hammer brand that kept me going because I was sure it'd get better. And technically it did (the climax is truly goofy), but too little too late. Oh well.

What say you?


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