One of the weirdest and most unsettlingly haunting horror films of the 1970s is also one of the most misunderstood.
I first saw The Witch Who Came from the Sea back in the VHS days, when the sensationalist VTC packaging (emphasising incest and castration) both attracted teenage sleaze hound like myself and the attentions of the authorities – the film was for some time caught up in the whole video nasty debacle.
In reality, while those extreme elements are certainly part of the story, Matt Cimber’s 1976 film is less a grubby gorefest than a genuine curiosity, a film that sits uncomfortably in the no man’s land between Lemora – A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural and I Spit On Your Grave. The story of mentally unbalanced Molly (Millie Perkins), who was abused by her father and no may or may not be castrating footballers and TV stars (how much of the film’s narrative is ‘real’ and how much the daydreams of the increasingly damaged Molly is left for us to decide), Matt Cimber’s movie is unlike anything else you’ll ever see. There’s a strange melancholy atmosphere – helped by a fine score by Herschel Burke Gilbert – and Robert Thom’s screenplay is more a character study than a traditional psycho slasher – which makes the scenes of nudity and genital mutilation (strong stuff if not overly explicit) all the more unsettling when they arrive.
Of course, the film’s weird hybrid nature makes it a tough one for many audiences – you almost feel as though it has been designed to alienate as many viewers as possible. But this is a film that lingers for years after you first see it – you can never quite shake it. And this one of those films that is a lot better than it should be. Cimber – who has had a colourful career ranging from sex education hardcore to Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold, via blaxploitation, Pia Zadora films, The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and marriage to Jayne Mansfield – ensures that the film remains unsettlingly odd throughout, Dean Cundy’s cinematography adds a touch of class and the main performances are excellent, Perkins being at once tragic and terrifying.
Fans of 1970s cinematic weirdness will find much to relish here.
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