THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)

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The Witch Who Came From the Sea

Available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Arrow Video

As titles go, this is the kind of thing that I usually expect to be misleading. It’s a little over the top sounding, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t contain a single witch or any salt water at all. It’s also one of those which falls under the once dramatic sounding video nasties label, so again it’s unlikely that it contains any content to warrant such as status. Two out of three isn’t bad going, and while this is the story of a troubled ship captain’s daughter, there’s no black magic involved and the amount of adult rated material is quite tame. So what are we left with? Well overall this is another one of those stories about traumatic past experiences pushing someone to commit terrible acts. It’s a well trodden path. How it stacks up against other tales of this sort will take some closer examination.

To try and summarise this will just make it sound like a sleazy exploitation flick, as a young woman uses sex to commit acts of revenge against men she associates with some kind of past abuse. But it’s generally more than just a series of murders and nude scenes, and while there are plenty of shots of naked skin and a few bloody moments it’s actually pretty restrained. Broadly speaking it’s a better fit for the psychological thriller genre, as our protagonist struggles with episodes brought on by seeing guys working out or celebrities on television advertising sensual products.

Molly (Millie Perkins) is a bit of an idealist, someone who spends a lot of her time with her two nephews telling them tall stories about her father, a mariner who was lost a sea. She fills their heads with ideas about this noble explorer, trying to give them some kind of hero figure to look up to. It’s pretty clear that this wasn’t the case in reality as her sister recalls that he was actually an ‘evil bastard’. As things progress it becomes obvious that she’s saying a lot of these things not only to entertain the kids but also to keep herself in denial. The sort of things he actually got up to have left her with some real problems that start to surface in more than just day dreams.

Initially there are a few weird moments including a vision of muscle beach dudes being strangled and sports personalities being killed, and there are lots of hazy visuals and some interesting voice modulation effects. But of course these are not always just fantasy experiences whether Molly realises it or not. Her encounters with what she calls ‘beautiful men’ are setting off more than just her physical urges for company. As things spiral out of control it becomes a pretty standard series of events that has been done in a lot of other films, although the truth is it’s more sad than truly vicious.

A lot of this is to do with the performances, with Molly being portrayed as a distant, often spaced out character who looks out for her family and friends but slips into melancholy and has alcohol fuelled moments of anger. There are a lot of people drinking and popping pills, it’s a weird washed out ’70s world full of flaking paint and bleached wood. The rest of the cast do a fine job, but Millie Perkins is the core to all of this as someone who wants to forget what her father was really up to by watching TV all night and ordering lots of tall glasses of vodka. As she puts it, how can you know what’s real if it’s not on TV?

The rest of the film is dotted here and there with a few eccentric secondary characters. These include a seedy tattoo parlour owner called Jack Dracula – real name Jack Dracula (Stan Ross) and Molly’s outspoken and homophobic co-worker Doris (Peggy Feury) who constantly gossips about people whether she knows them or not such as a doctor who ‘shits pills and pisses medicine’. There are also odd moments including a TV actor’s girlfriend firing a gun at his car as two guys stand watching and making weird comments. There’s also an appearance from George ‘Buck’ Flower playing a detective instead of a drunken bum for once. Beyond these smaller, more colourful moments of character the overall story is pretty bland unfortunately. Molly falls in and out of her more psychotic moods and the police begin to figure out what she’s been up to. Most of the story is played out like a basic drama rather than anything really outlandish.

It’s a pretty bleak affair with a dour musical score from Herschel Gilbert and a lot of run down seaside locations, with some eerie photography courtesy of Ken Gib and a pre-Halloween Dean Cundey. Ultimately this is not the revenge filled nightmare that the BBFC would have once liked you to believe back in the day, but a slow, downbeat thriller with a few oddball characters and some interesting visual touches and flashbacks. The idea of someone moving in and out of fantasy, sometimes stopping to look after young children between the bloodletting is a nice addition. The inclusion of certain motifs that suggest television is warping the minds of viewers is brief, but interesting. Overall you’ve probably seen this all before, so it’s probably one just for those who want that particular ’70s atmosphere rather than any sort of shock power or killing spree horror.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

2K restoration from original vault materials
High Definition Blu-ray presentation
Original Mono Audio
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Introduction to the film by Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower
Audio commentary with producer-director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
Tides and Nightmares – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with Cimber, Perkins, Cundey and actor John Goff
A Maiden’s Voyage – archive featurette comprising interviews with Cimber, Perkins and Cundey
Lost at Sea – director Cimber reflects on his notorious cult classic
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil

 

Mocata
About Mocata 82 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, foreign cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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