Burned at the Stake (1981)

aka The Coming
Article 4523 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-3-2014
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
Featuring Susan Swift, Albert Salmi, Guy Stockwell
Country: USA
What it is: Weird witch possession movie

A man whose daughter is on trial for being a witch travels through time to the present day, where he encounters a girl who may be the reincarnation of the one who is accusing is daughter of witchcraft – Ann Putnam.

For the first ten minutes of the movie, I thought this was going to be another of those dramas about the Salem witch trials; it’s quite bad during this sequence (at least partially because of the very clumsy period dialogue being used), and I was glad when the movie took a left turn into the present. Still, that left turn is pretty bizarre, and the story (which is kind of a cross between THE EXORCIST and a reverse-angle version of one of those “witches returning from the dead” stories) really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For some reason, the possession of the girl gives her witch-like powers (despite the fact that Ann Putnam was not a witch but merely accused others of witchcraft), and in order to save her the powers of a real witch are needed. The more I try to sort it out, the less sense the movie makes. Still, for a movie that is often quite bad, it has its moments; my favorite is a scene in which a real witch threatens the captain of the police department. Susan Swift (as both Ann Putnam and the girl she possesses) gives a good performance, but I did get very annoyed with her constant yelling and crying, a problem I’m more likely to attribute to bad direction than to her talent. It’s a strange entry into the oeuvre of Bert I. Gordon, and though it has some interesting ideas, it never comes together.


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