Witchy and Demonic Viewings!
By Kristin Battestella
From witches and other onscreen demonic ladies to stylish satanic cults and the bizarrely supernatural, here’s a list of fiery gals, helping magic, hurting spirits, and the strange…
Burn Witch Burn – A creepy, blank screen opening narration sends this 1962 British thriller a-simmering beneath the campus innocence, great cars, ivy covered cottages, and seemingly fine period drama – but that’s before the sudden spider souvenirs hidden in the bedroom drawer! Not so nice and magical wife Janet Blair (My Sister Eileen) has all sorts of Craft curios amid the great set dressings, cigarettes, period style, and black cats. It’s a lighter take then most witchy pictures, but the secret practices are no less creepy thanks to sinister suspense music and scary discoveries. The well framed, black and white prospective photography, mirror uses, and shadow schemes parallel the fractured, marital debates, too. Peter Wyngarde (Jason King) is a disbeliever relying on logic, education, and intelligence versus the implausibility of positive charms and evil hexes. Screenwriters George Baxt (Circus of Horrors), Charles Beaumont, and Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone) add scandalous student/teacher allegations to this breaking Cleaver surface and send the fears and desperation boiling over as spells go awry. The car chases and titular fires mount, but the original Night of the Eagle name matches perfectly as well. Thunder, wind, eerie tape recordings, even the old-fashioned abrupt ringing of a telephone puts one on edge here, and the pace come to a pinnacle to finish this excellent, deadly thriller.
Curse of the Demon – Early Stonehenge footage and creepy, well done demonically orchestrated deaths and special effects start off this 1957 black and white British cult fest originally titled Night of the Demon in eerie and disturbing fashion. Director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People) uses interesting camera tricks, distorted perspectives, smoke, lighting, shadows, ominous dark hallways, and visual depth to create suspenseful settings and on screen movement. The what you don’t see implications, however, freaky predictions, runes, messages with a mind of their own, dangerous winds, perfectly timed thunder, and creepy clown makeup also add dimension and fear. Dana Andrews (Best Years of Our Lives, Laura) may look a little worse for the wear, but he brings handsome, old school class and an everyman feeling for the audience thanks to his skepticism. Though she’s kind of too cute to be taken seriously if she’s making threats, Peggy Cummings (Gun Crazy) is certainly likeable and the viewer fears for her safety. Cool cars and convertibles, mid century style and mannerisms add to that old time sophistication, and I don’t even mind this early horror appearance of a library research montage – what else were they supposed to do? The investigation, action, and questioning of one’s beliefs progresses perfectly, and the built in ticking clock sends the picture out on a high note.
Deadly Blessing – Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street) directs a wonderful ensemble – including Maren Jensen (Battlestar Galactica), Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct), Susan Buckner (Grease), Lisa Hartman (Knots Landing), Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), and Ernest Borgnine (McHale’s Navy) – in this 1981 rural cult thriller. Granted, the voices are soft, the country slow will be too slow for today’s fast-paced audiences, and the decidedly not Amish Hittite sect is too stereotypical. With point of view Peeping Tom angles, peering camera depths, blinding lights, red photography, and dark, scary shadows, however, the viewer trusts something sinister is afoot. Fears happen thanks to the extreme religious implications, farm country isolation, creepy barns, and the backwoods lack of technology; the music accents the scares and suspense amid some lovely, innocent character moments, too. Some dramatic and supernatural elements, however, remain unexplored and ultimately unfulfilled due to a flat script – parts of each theme are very well done, but not all the pieces fit together perfectly. Borgnine is stern and scary but his spooky looming and Stone’s very effective wiggins feel uneven amid the attempted mix of scream queens and girl power. Likewise, the weird ending is both slasher and mystical scary and out of place or potentially polarizing. Fortunately, the mystery and creepy atmosphere keep this enjoyable for fans of the cast and Craven, although this is not for arachnophobes or anyone who has issues with snakes – that bath tub scene really freaked me out!
Virgin Witch – This once X-rated and censored 1972 British saucy has a fiery, feisty opening complete with swanky music and boobs right there in the credits! The lack of subtitles makes some dialogue tough, but thanks to the ridiculously short skirts – or less – on sisters Ann (Death Wheelers) and Vicki Michelle (‘Allo, ‘Allo!), I don’t think it matters. More retro styles, sweet cars, London locales, and creepy country manors add to the pretty along with red lighting, neat camera tricks, iris openings, and shutter clicks during the onscreen photography sessions. If art was imitating life, however, it’s no surprise the stars don’t recall this film favorably. Everybody’s trying to get into these girls’ panties – who knew the cutthroat modeling world was really so demonic and nasty? Rapacious virgin sacrifices and artistic license orgies aside, it’s nice to see the clarifications on white witchcraft and no devil worship. The lesbian shade, by contrast, is too stereotypical and even offensive – Patricia Haines (Blood Beast from Outer Space) is up to no good, using business and religion to recruit young girls for her own unnatural desires! Fortunately, these intentions are just sexy, sensuous, and dangerous enough to keep up the fun, as there is more suggestion of kinky action than actual witch-ness anyway. Some scenes even feel like a porno with the obligatory sex cut out: models hitchhiking, the job interview, photography in the woods while someone else watches, the silent gardener doth approach… This steamy is all well and good if that’s what you want, but the sauce is at the expense of the shady. What does this coven really want and why? Though not a very original or ambitious picture – several opportunities are left untaken – the juicy scares and nudity do what they are supposed to do for an entertaining, sexy, and bemusing 90 minutes.
Incubus – This pre-Star Trek 1966 hidden William Shatner/Esperanto, um, gem written and directed by Leslie Stevens (The Outer Limits) actually looks wonderfully well restored. The well shot, black and white, almost exclusively outdoor silhouettes and lighting accent the dangerous fountain of youth and deadly succubus plots. The pace and intensity gain steam once Milos Milos (The Russians Are Coming) arrives with the titular vengeance, and the demonic myths are fairly accurate as well. Although Allyson Ames (Simon King of the Witches) and Eloise Hardt (Games) are indeed enchanting and creepy with saucy implications to match, the ridiculously wooden acting and stiff, trying too hard to be avante garde delivery makes this extremely difficult to watch. The hazy, bad dream atmosphere and existential eclipse on top of the Esperanto faux foreign picture vibe all combine for a seriously stoned viewing. What’s with the monk sucking an egg and carrying a reptile? It’s too weird to hear mixed English, Spanish, Italian, or French and Latin sounding dialogue – there are words you know, words you don’t know, words you recognize that mean something else, and then a whole lot of gibberish and a bad, lost in translation script. Only the eponymous cult happenings should have been in the created language, and after all the behind the scenes trouble, deaths, and hexes surrounding this picture, why not just film in English and then offer an Esperanto dub option? Is this movie the reason why Shatner…talks…the way…he…does? I don’t want to recommend this because this is in many ways a very flawed film, yet it has to be seen to be believed.