October 23, 2014

The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)

Directed by Matt Cimber. Starring Millie Perkins ("Molly"), Lonny Chapman ("Long John"), Vanessa Brown ("Cathy Brown"), and Peggy Feury ("Doris"). Rated R.

Source: Streaming on The Movie and Music Network
Running time: 01:28:09
Country: USA

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As an enthusiast of the Video Nasties, THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA is a movie I've been wanting to check out ever since I discovered what the fuck a Video Nasty was. It was never high up on my list to check out though; it's a relatively obscure movie and one that I'd never heard much about other than it being more of a slower-paced art film in comparison to the rest of the cannibal and zombie movies that were banned by the BBFC back in the day and declared too "nasty" for public consumption. Not that I have a problem with that, but if I go out of my way to watch one of the Video Nasties, I want to see what all the fuss is about, and by that I mean people getting their brains eaten and faces ripped off.

Set in a coastal town, THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA follows a troubled woman named Molly, who has all sorts of issues - a lot of which are gradually revealed until the depressing finale. As the film goes on, Molly's dark history consumes her and, appropriately enough, causes her to drift further out into a sea of madness. Certain resources would lead you to believe that this is a character study under the guise of a slasher movie, in which the lead character seduces men and kills them. There are indeed moments of Molly being portrayed as an empowered seductress who kills unsuspecting members of the opposite sex, but there's much more to it than that.

"The Witch Who Came from the Sea" isn't just one of the coolest movie titles of all time - it also evokes imagery of a supernatural slasher with an aquatic antagonist. Well, this is definitely not that, so be warned. The title is merely a reference to a drawing of a mermaid that Molly obsesses over and eventually gets tattooed on her body as part of her transformation. That said, the title isn't completely misleading, but the equally amazing poster artwork of a sickle-wielding babe holding a severed head doesn't exactly help the film's cause. But, aside from the mermaid and the coastal setting, the ocean plays a big part in the back-story of the lead character in a rather disturbing way that involves sexual abuse.

Whether or not you like this movie from a pure enjoyment standpoint, there's definitely something to be said about how it portrays mental illness and the trauma caused by sexual abuse. It does so with visuals and sound, which allows the viewer to relate to Molly's mental and emotional instability, and this is where a lot of the film's horror elements are revealed - psychological horror but horror nonetheless. It also allows lead actress Millie Perkins to play Molly with subtlety and rely less on physicality and theatrics to get the point across. One of the movies that came to mind when watching this was Lodge Kerrigan's CLEAN, SHAVEN, which also takes us inside the head of a person suffering from mental illness through visuals and especially sound. There's also a strange coincidence that the two films share, in that they both feature shaving scenes that wind up getting a little bloody. This would also make a good double-feature with LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH, which shares a similar type of unreliable narrator (much more so in the case of JESSICA) by way of a disturbed female lead character.

Judging this based on its "worthiness" of being labeled a Video Nasty, or even just as a horror movie in general, THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA is a disappointment. But, once you get over the fact that it's more of a drama than anything, there's a lot to admire about it. The journey of the lead character over the course of the film is an interesting one at the very least. It's like watching a car slowly drift across lanes of traffic before eventually hitting a tree and bursting into flames. Overall, this is an interesting portrait of a young-ish woman who's far too damaged to live up to her potential. From a technical standpoint, it's also a nicely shot film, but that shouldn't come as a surprise to those familiar with the work of cinematographer Dean Cundey (HALLOWEEN). There are also moments of effective humor and tons of a politically-incorrect dialogue, which is one of the film's many elements that make it very much a product of its time.

Score: 7

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