Directed by Cyril Frankel [Other horror films: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960)]
Known as The Devil’s Own in the USA, Hammer’s foray into witches was okay. It was far from great, and I think the ending could have used a hell of a lot of work, but it was watchable, albeit it in a below average way. It just wasn’t much more.
What I can say for The Witches is that it lays out a somewhat engrossing mystery in a small English village, but by the final twenty minutes, when everything is laid out and we see that extraordinarily goofy (and lengthy) Satanic ritual, my interest has pretty much disappeared entirely.
And let me talk about that stupid ritual for a second. Getting a majority of a small village to join a Satanic cult might be possible, but if they knew how goofy they’d have to act during the rituals, how over-exaggerated and silly they’d look, I think it’d lose most of the potential members. It just didn’t seem realistic at all to me.
I also felt somewhat torn about the time-lapse about halfway through. Even after that, though, I can admit the movie had a decent atmosphere and I was still engaged with the story. But that stupid fucking ritual. That just really killed what little interest I had left at that point completely.
I’m not familiar with Joan Fontaine, but she was okay here. I appreciated how she wasn’t the typical young woman (not that she looked old here, by any means – she just looked quite a bit more mature), and I liked the nightmarish scenario she had in Africa. Alec McCowen was decent, though ultimately, pretty pointless, as he played zero part in the conclusion (surprisingly so). I started out liking Kay Walsh, but by the end, I just found her overly illogical and goofy.
The Witches had a good atmosphere at times, and it has that small village feel that I enjoy from films around the same time period (such as The Reptile and The Gorgon), but that final act wasn’t the way to go. I can understand how this one isn’t one of the more celebrated Hammer films, because it just sort of falls apart, and ends up a movie with potential, but ultimately disappointing.