Witches and Bayous, Oh My! By Kristin Battestella
This trio of somewhat obscure retro pictures has the spooky mood, atmospheric locales, and bemusing magic needed for a little late night enchantment.
Mark of the Witch – A noose, mud, frock coats, and ye olde speaketh set the scene for this 1970 tale of 300-year-old witches and revenge on a Texas college campus, oh yes. Certainly, there are bemusing production values – false eyelashes on the witch, modern dental work seen in her over exaggerated delivery, more bad acting, and super windblown curses amid lengthy filler credits, off-key folk tunes, uneven sound, and cutting corners close camera work that’s just too up close. Fortunately, more natural conversations are casual fun alongside occult books, superstition and psychology studies, and ‘spook seminars’ recounting how those who exorcised and persecuted witches ended up suffering horribly themselves. Not to mention there’s a professor descended of those originally cursed who knows more than he’s saying. Colorful fashions, pigtails, and cigarettes add nostalgia as far out dudes play the sitar and ask hip chicks about their zodiac signs. Palm readings and Ouija boards lead to messing with a black magic tome and laughing at spells with belladonna and bat’s wings. They can substitute some dried rosemary for the fresh sprig in the recipe, right? Invocations, witch’s runes, candles, and wine goblets create an eerie ritual mood along with storms, possessions, and high priestess warnings. Things get slow when the embodied witch learns about our world – the telephone and coffee percolator are explained before campus tours and unnecessary music montages. And look at those classic station wagon ambulances! The men argue about ordering more books so they can learn how to excise the witch’s spirit from the coed, but she’s getting down with the fiery spells, demon summonings, and luring boys to the grove at midnight for some satanic saucy. Again, some action is laughable thanks to bizarre, poorly edited make out scenes and a certain tame to the potions, pompous explanations, repetitive rites, and psychedelic light show driving out of the evil spirit. There isn’t a whole lot to the actual revenge, yet eerie sound effects keep the cackling, daggers, and automatic writing interesting. This could have been totally terrible but the good premise doesn’t go far enough, either. Though neither stellar nor scary, this is both bemusing and creepy for a late night viewing if you can take the bad with the good.
Necromancy – Orson Welles (Chimes at Midnight) and Pamela Franklin (Satan’s School for Girls) star in this 1972 oddity also later known as The Witching with varying editing and runtimes. Hospital room scares and dead baby traumas restart the tale several times when an unsettled bedroom says everything needed before the husband’s job transfer to an isolated town called Lilith. His new boss is occult-obsessed and insists his dead son is only resting, but our wife doesn’t believe in life for a life rituals reviving the dead. The town name, however, gives her the creeps – as does talk of her having potential gifts thanks to being born with a veil. Although the outdoor filming is super bright, retro phones and a packed station wagon add to the desert drives, dangerous curves, and explosive accidents. A doll from the wreckage has fingernail clippings in its pocket and the sense of bizarre increases with nearby funerals, dead children in coffins, burning at the stake flashes, disappearances, and tombstones. Older, castle-like décor – trophy heads, demonic imagery, magic tomes – pepper the spooky Victorian homes alongside women both seventies carefree yet medieval inspired with old fashioned names. There are however no children in town, pregnant women have to leave, and our couple moves into the same place as the recently, mysteriously departed. These devil worshiping townsfolk in white robes prefer hiding in the past with time stopped and have no interest in the present thanks to goblets filled with bitter red liquid, astrology, ESP, and tarot. It’s awkward when you invite someone new to a party and ask them to join your coven! Mismatched fade-ins, crosscuts, zooms, and askew angles accent the hazy rituals, devilish lovers, and brief nudity. However, such editing both adds to the eerie and allows for more weird while making it look like creepy, lecherous, self-proclaimed magician Welles filmed his asides separately. He’s upfront about the occult, terrifying yet luring the Mrs. as the messy visions, wolves, and injuries increase. Freaky basements, rats, seduction, voodoo dolls, dead bodies, bats – is what she’s seeing real? Have any of these encounters actually happened? Despite shades of The Wicker Man foreshadowing, it takes a bit too long to get a clue even as the poison mushrooms, skeletons, and rituals gone wrong become more bizarre. Fortunately, there are some fun twists to keep the somewhat obvious and slightly nonsensical warped entertaining. Season of the Witch – A spring thaw reflects the cold marriage and empty nest that drives housewife Jan White (Touch Me Not) to witchcraft in this 1973 feminist leaning thriller from George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead). Repressed dreams with through the peephole distortions, cages, and dual mirror reflections match subtle wedding ring moments and not so subtle slasher style violence. There’s a lingering sexual guilt, a her fault, asking for it societal mentality festering because women weren’t supposed to talk to or about their slap happy husbands much less get their kit off and question sense of worth after motherhood. These upscale housewives are trophies gussied up just to drink – but our Joan lets her hair down, goes for a tarot reading, admits her fears and sexual curiosities. Moans and naughty innuendo add to a sensuous, pretty in its own way seventies color with patterns, fringe fashions, and bright makeup. The psychoanalysis is of the time, as are dated ladies gossip and erroneous witchcraft clichés – buy a how-to book and a silver chalice and boom you have empowered yourself scandalous! Although some obnoxious acting and muddled meta conversation is poor, there is a teatime frankness on the emerging seventies lifestyles and well put occult discussions countering the stereotypes. It’s an interesting culture clash when these still fifties-esque hypocrites want to be the seventies kids doing grass. If the MILF wants kicks and it’s a joke to the stud, who is using whom? Neither the extreme repression or the escalating wanton is healthy, nor is replacing a crap marriage for the latest risque, dangerous vogue. Yes, this is a desperately bare production, and cheap editing leaves the ninety-minute version looking more like leftovers than a polished film. Fortunately, the bizarre accents the changing women’s attitudes and sexy, suspenseful encapsulation of the era. Instead of today’s curious young thang, the realistic cast delivers some fine feminine nuggets here. But really, the character’s name is “Joanie” Mitchell? Hehehe.
The Witchmaker – The picture may be a little flat for this 1969 slow burn also called The Legend of Witch Hollow, but vintage swamp scenery, moody moss, weeping willows, shallow boats, and Louisiana cemeteries set off the bayou murders. Mellow music and swimming babes in white lingerie begat violent kills with ritual symbols, dripping blood, binding ropes, upside down hangings, and slit throats. The disturbing is done with very little, but eight women have been killed in last two years, thus intriguing a parapsychologist investigator and his team of sensitives, psychic students, and skeptical magazine writers. It’s $21 for their three boat trips, supplies, and six people renting the no phone cabin for five days – I’ll take it! Old townsfolk fear the culprits are immortal witches who need blood to stay young and warn the guests of snakes, quicksand, and gator-filled marshes. Early electrical equipment, radios, and technical talk on waves and magnetic fields balance the somewhat dry acting and thin dialogue as more bikini clad psychic women rub on the sunscreen while our ominous warlock watches. Although the nudity is relatively discreet with the skimpy suggestion doing more, the maniacal laughter and slow motion running while clutching the boobies is a bit hokey. Thankfully, lanterns, hidden rooms beneath the floor, underground tunnels, and satanic rituals sell the macabre. Crones with gross teeth and dominant spells must recruit these psychics to the coven for invigorating body and soul trades as the scientific talk gives way to candles, seances, chanting, and fog. Green lighting, red sheer dresses, and skimpy blue nighties are colorful spots among ominous witnessing, creepy statues, torches, and demonic altars. The investigating team buries victims amid out of control powers, hypnosis, and screams while the witches enjoy a little necking, decoy dames, knives, and fiery brandings. Granted, the male investigators are limp leads, just the facts fifties cops out of place compared to the ladies feeling more of the sixties Hammer lite. A third woman does nothing before being used as bait in the men’s plan which goes awry of course. The raising of the coven is more entertaining – all kinds witches, warlocks, cool cats, and unique characters manifest for some wine, feasting, and whips for good measure. The red smoke, music, dancing, romance, and chases lead to a blood pact or two before one final romp in the mud. Overall, this remains tame, and the plot should have gotten to the more interesting coven action in the latter half sooner. However, the unpolished aesthetics and retro feeling keep this late night drive-in eerie fun.