Starring: Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh, Alec McCowen
Directed by: Cyril Frankel
Written by: Nigel Kneale (screenplay), Norah Lofts (novel)
Original Year of Release: 1966
Distributor: Scream Factory
Rated: Not Rated
Run Time: 1h 30min
There are certain film companies or studios that I will always give a shot to. After Scream Factory announced they would be releasing Hammer Films' The Witches, I knew I had to see it. My general knowledge of Hammer Films is wrapped up in Dracula and Frankenstein lore (Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing). Yet, as of late, and with all the releases Scream Factory has been producing, I am ready to see something different from the studio that dripped blood. "Different" is certainly the word The Witches.
Joan Fontaine plays Gwen Mayfield, a woman hired to be the new headmistress (school teacher) a small English town. She is hired by the local priest and his sister to take over the small community's children's education. All seems fine and dandy until she sees the church, learns that the priest is actually an ordained minister and that many of the town's people are a little too worried about a young couple's blossoming relationship.
The issue with films like this is that we are privy to the knowledge that Gwen is somehow going to end up under the wrath of the witches. It's in the title and we saw the trailer. What director Cyril Frankel and screenwriter Nigel Kneale masterfully craft is a mystery that keeps you guessing. Now, we do have to contend with the fact that Gwen is coming off a recent nervous breakdown and is, at first, willing to fit in with her new surrounding because this is her second chance. Yet, after Gwen finds herself committed again, Joan Fontaine really turns on the drive to find out what is really happening in the small town.
The Witches is not the best Hammer film you haven't seen. It does keep you guessing but ends up handing you the solution to the problem a little too easily. Any modern film aficionado will say, "that's how she is going to save the day". The ending is also a bit of a whimper. I really enjoyed the film up to that point, it just fizzled out instead of delivering a grand finale.
As for the transfer, it is stunning. It quickly feels like a period piece instead of a film from 1966. What you will really appreciate, Hammer fans, is the featurette "Hammer Glamour" where numerous Hammer actresses are interviewed. Everything is discussed from casting to the impact their time with Hammer had on their lives. Each lady is unique and worth the watch to see how they coped with the time and treatment of women in cinema.
- NEW audio commentary with filmmaker/historian Ted Newsom
- Hammer Glamour – a featurette on the women of Hammer
- U.S. trailer The Devil’s Own
- Double feature trailer Prehistoric Women and The Devil’s Own
- Still Gallery