Sunday, June 7, 2009

In short: Mark of the Witch (1970)

More regional American filmmaking goodness, if your definition of goodness includes the early exploits of future TV show director Tom Moore in an exploitation film that doesn't dare to be all that exploitative - after all, it's made in Dallas.

You might have heard this plot before: Margery, a powerful witch (Marie Santell) is hanged (oh! historical accuracy!) for her wicked ways, thanks to the treachery of her co-witch and former lover (Robert Elston). Of course she's laying a wordy yet unspecific curse on him and his descendents.

300 years later, Mac Stuart, one of those descendents (also played by Robert Elston, of course), works as a college professor teaching his students the most interesting things about that groovy thing known as The Occult. When he and his students hold a séance, the young, naive and headburstingly innocent Jill (Anitra Walsh) is possessed by the spirit of the witch.

After proving the truthfulness of her possession by exploding Mac's budgie, the girl ropes Mac and her boyfriend Alan (Darryl Wells) into helping her attain some not clearly defined goal.

While Alan and Mac search behind her back for a way to exorcise her, witch girl does the usual stuff - some suggestive dancing, seducing people (don't fear, there are no breasts for you to see here), hypnotizing them into selling their souls to Satan and then killing them. But will she survive the psychedelic cross light show Alan and Mac have prepared for her?

Mark of the Witch is your typical, generic, cheap early 70s witchcraft film, filmed in the sort of colour that lets even brown look like a primary colour, with competent but not interesting direction and amateur actors.

Seeing that not much happens, the whole affair stands and falls with Anitra Walsh's Jill. I really wouldn't call her a good or effective actress, her "innocent" pre-possession Jill is so dreadful as to make the witch automatically incredibly sympathetic just by virtue of not being Jill, but as soon as she gets possessed she goes for a stupidly enthusiastic version of evil I couldn't help but like. It's just too bad that the film is so timid that she isn't allowed to do much, with all the seduction, murder and satanic rituals played out as harmless as possible.

The early 70s atmosphere is quite interesting here - the characters aren't hippies (I repeat, it's made in Dallas), but young and hip enough to have taken on all the worst characteristics of hippiedom, especially an incredible amount of sexism that leads to pearls of period dialogue like "I like my chicks dumb, but you baby are something else" to which the "chick" in question not answers with a kick to the groin but a giggle.

Yeah, you're bound to applaud when Jill kills 'em.



Dawnrazor said...

I'm streaming this from NetFlix now. So far it's even duller than you describe

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Yeah, well, this is mostly interesting in a "film as a cultural artifact" way, I think. If at all.