Saturday, October 12, 2013


Cyril Frankel’s The Witches (aka The Devil's Own, 1966) is a Hammer production I had not previously seen, so it was something of a treat to watch the new local blu-ray release of the film. Based on the 1960 novel The Devil’s Own by Peter Curtis (aka Norah Lofts), it’s an occult thriller that may not reach the lofty heights of the studio’s masterful The Devil Rides Out (1968), but its first two acts contain some terrific moments of atmosphere and creeping unease, as well as one jarringly brutal sequence (when the local butcher skins a real dead rabbit on his shop counter, right in front of horrified lead Joan Fontaine). The film also contains a fairly blatant reference to menstrual blood, which I found kind of surprising for the time. Unfortunately, Nigel Kneale’s screenplay gets a bit hysterical during the climax (not helped by Ingrid Boulting’s unconvincing hypnotic gyrating), which undoes a lot of the good tension and intrigue established earlier on. It’s kinda nice to see a Hammer genre film from this period that doesn’t have a roster of familiar faces in its cast. Fontaine makes a great (and great-looking) mature female lead, and the film even gives hints of a sapphic attraction between her schoolteacher character and Kay Walsh’s journalist. Fans of 1970s UK comedy television will recognise a young Michele Dotrice from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em in the cast. Like most Hammer productions from this period, it looks sumptuous and beautiful, though the blu-ray’s 1080i transfer is a little soft and tends to mute the film’s colours. Only extra on this BR/DVD combo release is the original trailer, though the UK release of The Witches contains the new 45 minute doco Hammer Glamour (which in Australia is instead included on - more suitably - Frankenstein Created Woman).