Witches, The (Blu-ray) (1966)
|Year Of Production||1966|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Cyril Frankel|
|RPI||?||Music||Richard Rodney Bennett|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 mono (1536Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.66:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.66:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine), a middle aged teacher in a mission school in Africa, suffers a nervous breakdown when she is targeted by a witchdoctor and forced to leave Africa. Later, back in England and still recovering, Gwen is hired by Alan Bax (Alec McCowan) to be head teacher in the private school financed by himself and his sister Stephanie (Kay Walsh) in the small English village in which they live. Gwen jumps at the chance, relishing the tranquillity and peace of the countryside and its friendly and welcoming inhabitants.
The reality is somewhat different and Gwen is soon unsettled by some strange behaviours by Alan and by a young girl in her class, Linda Rigg (Ingrid Brett). Linda is friends with a young boy in class, Ronnie (Martin Stephens), who warns Gwen that Linda is being harmed by her grandmother (Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies), a strange old woman. Soon afterwards Ronny mysteriously collapses into a coma and is taken to hospital, where he does not improve. Gwen later finds a male doll that has been beheaded and stuck with pins and begins to suspect witchcraft is occurring in the village. Her suspicions are strengthened when Ronny’s father is found drowned after going to visit Granny Rigg; Gwen also starts to believe that Linda is going to become a virgin sacrifice. But before Gwen can act on her suspicions reminders of her time in Africa planted in her room induce another breakdown; she loses her memory and she is placed in a clinic run by Dr Wallis (Leonard Rossiter). Can she regain her memory in time to follow up on her suspicions that Linda is in grave danger?
The Witches is based on the novel The Devil’s Own by Norah Lofts (writing as Peter Curtis). Apparently Oscar winner Joan Fontaine (for Suspicion back in 1941) bought the rights to the book and brought it to Hammer. The result is lesser Hammer; there are none of the main Hammer stars, it was directed by Cyril Frankel, who made only one other Hammer film, Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960), and the score was by Richard Rodney Bennett who, although a talented composer with three later Oscar nominations, including for Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and Nicolas and Alexandra (1971), was by no means a Hammer regular. The screenwriter who adapted the novel was Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale, but apparently he was dissatisfied with the film as the producers removed all the black comedy elements in the script to make the film very serious.Which is a pity.
The Witches (the film was exhibited as The Devil’s Own in the US) is very leisurely paced and contains little by way of tension or scares. The plotting is quite convoluted and, despite some meaningful stares by various characters who all obviously know what is happening, and one red herring, with a film called The Witches the audience knows what is the cause of the trouble and, indeed, can pick out who the main witch is easily enough. None of the acting, including by Fontaine, whose last feature film this was, is particularly convincing and the dancing (or gyrating) of the initiates during the climax in the coven is 1960s ludicrous and about as sinister as a church social.
The Witches is a curio; for an occult horror film it is neither tense nor scary, as a psychological thriller / mystery it is languid and obvious. However, the sets are impressive and, as usual in Hammer films, part of the fun is seeing performers who later became well known; in this case it is Leonard Rossiter from the hit TV show Rising Damp.
The Witches is presented in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, in 1080i, MPEG-4 AVC code.
Despite being an interlaced presentation, The Witches looks good in HD. Detail is strong and the village exteriors, filmed in Buckinghamshire, look great. Colours are deep and rich, blacks and shadow detail are both very good. Contrast does vary, however, and sometimes skin tones came over as very pale. Grain is nicely controlled; I saw no obvious marks or artefacts except for one slight frame jump.
No subtitles are provided.
Audio is an English LPCM 2.0 mono at 1536 Kbps; the film was shown theatrically with mono sound.
Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand. While this is a mono audio, effects such footsteps or the rain are crisp enough and the score by Richard Rodney Bennett sounds fine.
There is obviously no surround or subwoofer use.
I did not notice any hiss or distortion.
Lip synchronisation looked fine.
|Surround Channel Use|
The US trailer, thus titled The Devil’s Own.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
There is no Region A US Blu-ray of The Witches. The Region B UK is in 1080p and adds the “Hammer Glamour” featurette (which, in Australia was on the Frankenstein Created Woman Blu-ray release).
It seems that Joan Fontaine was the one who wanted to make The Witches. Hammer went along with a star of her quality but did not commit any of their stalwarts to the project. The result is a languid picture without much in the way of scares or tension and with an unintentionally silly climax. Lesser Hammer, of curio value.
The film looks good on Blu-ray, the audio is the original mono. A film trailer is the only extras.
The Witches is available as a stand-alone Blu-ray / DVD release from Shock Entertainment but it is also included in Shock’s 17 disc Hammer Horror Blu-ray Collection. The specifications and extras on both releases are the same, though without the DVD of course. The “Hammer Glamour” featurette included on the UK release of The Witches is on the Frankenstein Created Woman disc in the box set.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S580, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||NAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Speakers||Studio Acoustics 5.1|