Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In short: The Witching (1972)

aka Necromancy

We who know Bert I. Gordon mostly adore or spurn him as the king of awkward giant monster movies. However, despite a clear preference for very large or very small things, Gordon was a true exploitation director, hopping on any trend that came his way if it suggested a possibility for turning a fast buck.

In 1972, that meant making an occult horror movie about Pamela Franklin getting unwillingly drawn into the influence sphere of an evil satanist cult (or witch cult, the film doesn't differentiate) led by Orson Welles(!) in his bloated and bored phase because Orson needs her secret witch super powers to reanimate his dead little son. Which is one of the better motives for what's going on than these films often prefer. Too bad neither Welles nor Gordon are doing much with that aspect of the movie.

Instead, The Witching is a rollercoaster ride between long, plainly boring scenes of actors who could act but won't mumbling or shouting through slightly loopy versions of early 70s occultism horror clichés and awkward yet strangely effective scenes of delightfully illogical trance states. I did rather expect the first part of the ride from Gordon, his giant monster movies do after all have a tendency to go about things in an awkward and slightly ramshackle manner that has always reminded me of how a middle-aged used car salesman would interpret the idea of giant monsters.

The film's dream-like parts on the other hand did hit me as a surprise. Sure, the adjective of "awkward" still applies to Gordon's direction here, but here, the awkwardness rubs against moments of ambitious camera work and visual ideas that remind me of nothing so much as of Italian gothic horror and giallos. That impression of encountering a bit of pleasant European loopiness where I least expected it, is - at least in the version I watched, which I think, is based on a 1983 version of the film that adds a bit of nudity and surely subtracts other things - still more enhanced by a synth soundtrack very much in the spirit of Goblin (but not as good, not surprisingly).

Consequently, The Witching is at its strongest (or at least at its most charming) when it gives up on real world logic altogether and becomes a free-floating entity made out of strange emotional peaks, sleaze, vague notions of Satanism, Pamela Franklin widening her eyes and a side-ways approach to narrative that emphasises counter-intuitive scenes while treating what should be actual dramatic climaxes with off-handed disinterest. If you're like me, and this sort of thing is exactly what you hope for in your occult 70s horror, the devil's rain will fall on you gently here, particularly in a final half hour that is as glorious an appropriation of the dream state as you'll find in movies.

I never would have thought Bert I. Gordon had it in him.

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