Last year StudioCanal restored and re-released the classic Hammer films The Devil Rides Out, The Mummy’s Shroud and Rasputin the Mad Monk for the first time on Blu-ray. This year they have chosen the Cyril Frankel film The Witches as the next film to be given the restoration treatment. The film will be screened at LFF on the 11th & 12th of October, before being released on Blu-ray on the 21st of October 2013.
The film is based on the novel The Devils Own by Norah Lofts written under her pen-name Peter Curtis, and has been adapted for the screen by Nigel Kneale best know for his work on the Quatermass films. The film was also the last major film role for Academy Award winning actress Joan Fontaine.
The film sees Fontaine playing schoolteacher come missionary Gwen Mayfield, who having suffered a mental breakdown after working in Africa decides to take the post of Headmistress at a rural countryside school. Upon arriving she finds the perfect idyllic country village and befriends writer Stephanie Bax, played by Kay Walsh. Gwen quickly finds that there are strange forces working in the village and her investigations lead her to confront her own fragile state of mind.
The Witches starts with a bang. The early scene set in Africa gives the idea that the film will have occult leanings and starts to build early intrigue. However we are quickly taken away from this setting and brought to a small English village. The early pace of the film does continue though and there is always a feeling of dread behind this overtly nice setting. It’s clear this place is not what it wants you too believe, it’s simply trying to blind you with kindness.
The film does lose it’s way a touch in the middle act, seeming to spend a little too much time building tension that’s already there. This would be an issue for the film, if it’s final act did not deliver upon all this build up. Luckily for The Witches it’s ending is crazy and mad enough to work with the rest of the film. If you allow yourself to be taken along for the ride then it’s a lot if creepy fun, with great performances from Fontaine and wonderful early performance from Ingrid Boulting who really comes into her own as the film progresses.
The Witches might not be one of the most well know Hammer films, but it’s certainly one if the most foreboding I’ve seen. From start to finish the film oozes peril, and the last 20 minutes are simply glorious.
The Witches is available on Blu-ray and DVD Double Play from the 21st of October 2013 from StudioCanal.
Special Features –
- Brand new documentary: Hammer Glamour