Leaden, boring, uneventful... these are things that a horror film should
never be. Even if a film is badly plotted, awfully acted and dreadfully
directed, it can still be saved by a gallon of blood, a stupendous stunt
or a bit of gratuitous nudity. Unfortunately, Hammer's The Witches
has none of this.
In fact, it would probably be better if it was called "The Watches",
and involved a tour around a Swiss timepiece making factory. It would
certainly be more frightening.
A permanently pissed-looking Joan Fontaine has a nasty experience in Africa,
when the natives set upon her for having dodgy 60s hair. She has a nervous
breakdown, and returns to England. The beginning of the film almost manages
to build up a sense of tension, as our Joan is menaced by an unseen force
outside her hut. Unfortunately, the "monster" turns out to be
a bloke wearing a big tribal mask, and from that point on the film slips
rapidly downhill. Yet I still watched it.
Joan, now recovered, takes a job in a small village school. But pretty
soon, strange things start happening, and before you can say "Voodoo
chile con carne", she's right back in the loony bin, being looked
after by Leonard Rossiter (?). Of course, there's dark things afoot at
t'old mansion, and the rest of the village is involved in some kind of
black magic ritual. Joan, a rictus smile plastered all over her face,
gets back to the village and uncovers the whole shebang. Is the bad guy
the lord of the manor, who likes to dress up as a priest and is obviously
a bit mental? Or is it his personable sister who's in charge? Perhaps
it's Penrod, the mild mannered janitor? Ah, who cares? The whole thing's
a pile of shite anyway.
Luckily, the patient (or irredeemably sad) do get rewarded at the end
by the most outrageous piece of scenery chomping by the eventually uncovered
leader of the coven. There's also an appalling (and distinctly 60s British)
devil worshipping "orgy" where everyone keeps their clothes
on (see The Devil Rides Out for similar
crapness), which is followed by what looks like a drama class warm-up
routine, but, we're reliably informed, is some kind of Sabbat.
Considering the kind of stuff Hammer was busy churning out at the time
(Plague Of The Zombies, The
Reptile), what were they thinking of?