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The Witches Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

The Witches Blu Ray Large

Directed by Cyril Frankel
Written by Nigel Kneale (based on the novel by Norah Lofts)
1966, 91 minutes, Not Rated
Released on March 19th, 2019

Joan Fontaine as Gwen Mayfield
Kay Walsh as Stephanie Bax
Alec McCowen as Alan Bax
Duncan Lamont as Bob Curd
Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Granny Rigg
John Collin as Dowsett
Ingrid Brett as Linda

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Gwen Mayfield is a teacher whose previous position ended in the wake of a tribal uprising in Africa. The ordeal took its toll on her mental health, but she is feeling better now and ready to accept her next appointment. She doesn’t have to wait long before she is approached by Mr. Alan Bax with a position as head teacher at the small school he operates in the English village of Heddaby. She happily accepts and is soon on her way. The tranquil community is welcoming and her residence is charming and it’s all just what she needs. Miss Mayfield visits Mr. Bax at home and meets his sister Stephanie, a journalist working on her next article. The two hit it off and become fast friends. The students at the school are wonderful, especially young Linda Rigg and her boyfriend Ronnie, although the older villagers want to keep them apart. Mayfield doesn’t understand but follows their guidance and keeps things proper.

There are dark undercurrents circling, as when a boy falls into a coma and Miss Mayfield discovers a voodoo doll impaled by pins. Tragedy befalls the village with a drowning and the locals begin acting suspiciously. Mayfield suspects something sinister and confides in Stephanie. The two women come upon the idea that witchcraft may be involved and that the town may be keeping a dark secret. Mayfield does some investigating on her own and comes up with more evidence supporting the idea of a secret coven. She soon begins suffering terrifying nightmares and visions relating back to her troubled past with the African witch doctors. Could these images somehow be related to what is going on in Heddaby?

Directed by Cyril Frankel (The Executioner), the 1966 Hammer film The Witches is a suspenseful picture that steadily builds on its central mystery until the grand finale. Written by Nigel Kneale (Quatermass and the Pit) based on the novel The Devil’s Own by Norah Lofts (as Peter Curtis), the story is well-crafted and will keep audiences guessing as to the true nature of the events. About two thirds of the way through the picture, the story takes a huge leap that it never quite recovers from and the ending is a bit extreme, but overall this is a compelling tale that follows one woman’s journey into madness. Frankel keeps things moving and stages some beautiful shots that are rich with atmosphere. Kneale’s script delivers a slow boil that ratchets up the tension as sinister elements work their way to the front.

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Screen legend Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) stars as Gwen Mayfield, the sensitive yet dedicated schoolteacher caught in a dark mystery she doesn’t understand. Mayfield is a protagonist that audiences can relate to as she slowly wades into troubled water. Kay Walsh (A Study in Terror) co-stars as Stephanie Bax, the no-nonsense journalist keen on getting her next big story. Fontaine carries the picture but Walsh is a solid second lead with the two sharing great chemistry. As their relationship develops, Walsh becomes the stronger of the two and receives the bigger reveal, carrying the third act with ease. Fontaine’s character falls apart in a believable manner and her growing sense of terror is palpable.

The Witches is a haunting picture that is effective in its simplicity even though it does feature some dated opinions on the nature of womanhood. It isn’t so much a message that women are evil, it just doesn't feel they can always be trusted. Our protagonist is not particularly strong and is easily manipulated, but she retains an endearing quality that keeps audiences firmly on her side. I have not read the source novel – written by a woman – but I believe the villains are evil people who only happen to be female without a deeper message implied. Screenwriter Kneale paints these women with a broader brush making some downright unlikeable, save our heroine who remains pure albeit a bit dim. The plot unfolds at a steady clip without being bogged down by heavy statements or symbolism, focusing primarily instead on building suspense and horror, two things the film is quite successful at accomplishing.

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Video and Audio:

The image quality is quite satisfying with rich colors and prominent black levels. The 1.66:1 aspect ratio is clean and crisp and contains a decent amount of small-object detail.

A DTS-HD MA 2.0 preserves the original audio recording with clear dialogue levels that are free from hiss or other forms of distortion.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Filmmaker/ historian Ted Newsom delivers a somewhat scattered, rambling audio commentary that is frequently sidetracked by background information unrelated to this picture. Some of the discussion is scene-specific, but for the most part these are a collection of uneven anecdotes.

In Hammer Glamour (44 minutes), many of the women of Hammer Films are gathered to discuss their memories of working with the studio. Valerie Leon, Caroline Munroe, Martine Beswicke, Madeline Smith and Jenny Hanley are just some of the women interviewed and while all have fond memories of the system, there are a few prickly moments when it comes to on-camera nudity expectations. They discuss the career opportunities they received and the dynamic of acting over merely showing up and looking pretty.

The U.S. trailer released as The Devil’s Own has been included, joined by a pair of double-feature trailers pairing this picture with Prehistoric Women.

A still gallery (4 minutes) featuring promotional images, poster art, newspaper ads and lobby cards appearing in both color and black-and-white plays as a silent slideshow.

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Movie: Fourstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Threeandahalfstars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Threestars
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating

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About The Author
Robert Gold
Author: Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer - USA
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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