Sun 31 Aug 2008
WITCHCRAFT. Lippert Films / 20th Century Fox, 1964. Lon Chaney Jr, Jack Hedley, Jill Dixon, David Weston, Diane Clare, Yvette Rees, Victor Brooks. Director: Don Sharp.
The year, 1964, is the same as the previous movie reviewed here on the blog, Devils of Darkness, with which it was recently paired in a recent DVD release, and both were filmed in England, but nonetheless there’s an ocean of difference between them.
I don’t mean geographically. Devils was filmed in glorious color; Witchcraft was filmed in even more glorious black-and-white. The story in Devils appeared to have been put together at the spur of the moment; Witchcraft has a single focus — that of a witch being resurrected from the dead — and seeking revenge. The latter in particular makes a good deal of sense to me, if I’d been buried alive as a witch some 300 years or so ago.
Beginning with the first scene, we (the viewer) are caught up in the story, as a bulldozer makes its way through an ancient cemetery, uprooting underbrush, dirt and (of course) gravestones, making way for a new development. Then we see the outraged Morgan Whitlock, (played by Lon Chaney, Jr., and the only American actor in the film) shaking his cane in the air and saying that there will be the equivalent of hell to pay.
He’s right. Later the same evening a gravestone is pushed aside and Vanessa Whitlock climbs her way out of the ground. She’s played by a skeletal-looking Yvette Rees, who manages to be authentically shivery scary without being actively icky repulsive, a fact you can perhaps agree on by seeing the photo located to the right.
It turns out that Vanessa’s wrath is not only directed toward the partner in the construction firm that desecrated the graveyard, but toward the family of the other partner, Bill Lanier (Jack Hadley). There has been a feud between the Whitlocks and the Laniers ever since Vanessa’s non-death, mostly fueled by resentment by the Whitlocks for being ousted from their family home.
There’s also a Romeo and Juliet forbidden romance to keep the plot going — a return from the grave not being quite enough — so even without a whole lot of gore, there’s enough story to entertain us (the viewer) for the full 79 minutes of running time.
I included Victor Brooks in the list of credits, even though he doesn’t have much time on the screen. He plays essentially the same role as he did in the later Devils of Darkness, that of the local police inspector who’s called in when the deaths begin to pile up. This time he’s totally puzzled; by the time he appeared in Devils, he was a whole lot quicker in picking up on the fact that the supernatural was involved.
Too bad the same can’t be said about the characters in Witchcraft, if fault be found anywhere in this film. As usual, they do the most stupid things, such as leaving themselves (or their wives, grandmothers and girl friends) totally alone and vulnerable while all of these strange events are going on. It’s par for the course, of course, but I mention it because perhaps seeing characters doing stupid things bothers you more than it did me, this time.
One last thing. The director of Witchcraft was Don Sharp. I didn’t mention him in my review of The Devil-Ship Pirates, but he was also at the helm of that film, and as it happens, it was the very same year, 1964. A few years later (1968) he also directed a few TV episodes of The Avengers, of which in terms of all-around watchability, this movie reminded me of a lot.