What’s It About? Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine), an English school mistress working as a missionary in Africa, finds herself victimised by the local witch doctors. Exposed to the powers of the occult, she flees back to England to recover, and takes up a position at a small rural school in the countryside. But the idyllic village becomes increasingly sinister as Gwen uncovers a web of dark and satanic secrets.
Verdict: The Witches (Originally a book by Peter Curtis) was adapted for the screen by legendary screenwriter Nigel Kneale, who had produced many fine British horror films and TV programmes. You can see Kneale’s touches all over the film, from the initial terrifying ordeal in Africa to the slow realization that everything in the village isn’t as it should be. There’s a slow burning tension for the first hour that slowly drip feeds titbits of what some of the locals are like, and as Gwen starts to piece it together, waves of anxiety wash over her and the viewer. It’s a master class in how to build an esoteric horror story from the ground up without the use of full blown scares.
Sadly it all gets thrown away towards the end as the satanic rituals look more like a drama class warming up than anybody actually sacrificing young virgins, with annoying chanting and some over-the-top dance routines. All rather laughable and a complete comedown after what has gone before it.
Extras: A 42-minute documentary called Hammer Glamour that looks at the ladies who’ve brought glamour and sexiness to the Hammer films. The interviews are informative and rather funny with some interesting tales thrown in.
Final Words: This might not be one of Hammer Film’s finest movies, but it has some intense psychological moments. However it’s let down by a hooey last ten minutes that throws out all suspense and terror in favour of some bizarre satanic wailing and gnashing that amounts to not a lot.
The Witches is available on Blu-ray/DVD double pack from 21 October 2013.