Witches, The (UK - BD RB)
Marcus visits a small English town and wonders what's the big deal with dolls?
We meet English schoolteacher Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) while she's working in an African missionary. Victimized by a tribe of local witch doctors, she is left deeply traumatized. In an effort to recover Gwen takes up a position in a rural school within the British countryside but the idyllic village surroundings become increasingly sinister as Gwen begins to uncover a nightmarish web of dark and satanic secrets.
This 1966 Hammer Films thriller/horror is pretty standard stuff in regards to set up but the well handled plot and strong central performance from Fontaine as well as her supporting cast (which includes many a face from British 70s TV) makes it feel a little more intriguing than the usual stranger in a small town plot.
The film has three distinct acts that involve arriving at the small town with Gwen, rejoining her in a care home after a second break down and going back with her to discover the truth about the strange goings on in the town. The first two acts are a strong example of power of suggestion and mounting odd occurrences and I found myself asking many of the same questions Gwen was pondering but as is the case with most of these things the pay off third act pays off a bit too heavily.
Okay, without spoiling anything, we certainly get the witchy answers to all of our occult questions but this one treads a fine line between weird/creepy and weird/funny. There’s a whole lot of choreographed dancing in groups and witchy weirdness but even giving it the benefit of the doubt initially the kooky witch stuff really forces you to grin even when you really want to buy into the darkness of the situation because of the solid build up to it.
From the opening scene this a gloriously bright and colourful image. Edges are wonderfully sharp, details are rich and layered and the minimal grain makes for a remaster that immediately impresses.
As we move on the colours of the film really do leap off of screen. Reds are particularly great but the lighting is so strong even colours like grey and navy blue reach out beyond their surroundings. Black levels are often a little closer to dark blue and its sometimes hard to tell if something is supposed to be black but its a small thing in this otherwise beautifully bright and lively presentation.
It's really quite enjoyable seeing an old film like this looking so alive in HD. Edges can look amazingly sharp here and everything just glows within its new HD home. The Witches really is a fine example of how older films could and should look on Blu-ray and at moments is quite astonishing to look at.
The track here is a little hollow but its got a nice bit of power behind it. The score is noticeably striking, with instruments sounding crisp and bold and dialogue and ambient sounds sound perfectly placed and clear.
There are a few minor syncing issues and screams can often get a little shrieky but that comes with the territory and age of the film really and there's the odd bit of hiss in certain scenes but it all retains the charm of the era the film was made in and keeps the film sounding as it was intended while enabling it to thrive within modern audio tech.
Hammer Glamour (42:21 HD) covers many of the Hammer Hotties from their catalogue of films. We get plenty of still and clips and talks from the older ladies now. Hammer casting models for their movies made for some classically beautifully looking horrors didn’t it. Great stuff.
There's also a DVD copy included.
I liked The Witches, it was quaint and extremely picturesque sixties in nature but that somehow made it feel all the more sinister as the dark underbelly of this story subtly revealed itself. Of course all the subtle in the world isn't going to prepare you for the goofy visuals of the dark goings ons in the final act but this Hammer film is charming enough to pull it off.
The disc itself has a fantastic visual presentation, far out doing exceptions for a 1966 film, the audio is solid as well and the documentary on the Hammer hotties (which has very little to do with the film itself BTW) is a great watch.
Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 21st October 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Mono LPCM 2.0 English
Extras: Hammer Glamour Documentary
Easter Egg: No
Director: Cyril Frankel
Cast: Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh, Alec McCowan, Ann Bell, Ingrid Boulting
Genre: Drama, Horror and Thriller
Length: 91 minutes
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