The Witches (1966)

Article 2922 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-8-2009
Posting Date: 8-13-2009
Directed by Cyril Frankel
Featuring Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh, Alec McCowen
Country: UK

A schoolteacher, haunted by memories of an attack by voodoo worshipers in Africa, ends up taking a job in a small English town. However, she discovers that the town has a mysterious secret and that witchcraft may be at work.

According to IMDB, it was Joan Fontaine who acquired the rights of the Norah Lofts novel and brought it to Hammer for production; its commercial failure prompted her retirement from acting. It’s an odd, but often interesting movie; it reminds me on occasion of THE WICKER MAN, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and any of several movies where an unbalanced woman is terrorized, though it really remains its own movie. It’s graced by a script from Nigel Kneale, and this helps somewhat. Most of the movie is quite talky, but the talk is interesting enough, and certain other scenes (like the one where Fontaine’s character finds herself caught in a sheep stampede that destroys evidence of foul play in the death of a local man) are very striking. Still, you won’t be surprised by the identity of the head witch, and when we hit the witches’ ritual at the end of the movie, it stumbles badly. Though I admire that the movie tries to do something different with the idea of the meeting of a coven, the spastic dancing by the worshipers is more comic than horrific; it looks like something out of a really bad avant-garde musical. Ultimately, it’s one of those movies that works better when it’s mining its sense of mystery and dread, but loses its way when it shows its hand.


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