Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Virgin Witch (1972)

Given it’s title, Virgin Witch, and the fact that it’s released on DVD by Redemption, you might expect that this movie is going to be little more than sexploitation with a few horror trappings. And basically, you’d be right! But it’s highly entertaining sexploitation with horror trappings, and it has a few nice little twists.

Ann Michelle is Christine, and she’s keen to break into modeling. She answers an advert, and finds herself in Sybil Waite’s modeling agency. Sybil (played by Patricia Hines) immediately orders her to disrobe so she can check her measurements. Which she proceeds to do, in a rather intimate manner. Sybil clearly likes girls. In that way. But Christine isn’t put out by this and eagerly accepts an invitation to go to the country house of a friend of Sybil’s for a weekend photo shoot. She takes along her sister Betty (played by Ann Michelle’s real-life sister Vicki).

Christine soon discovers that photographic modeling consists mostly of taking your clothes off. The photographer, who is practically drooling, tells her he can’t quite get the right angle for the shot he’s after, but it might help if Christine removes her panties. She’s happy to oblige. Soon Christine and the photographer are getting along rather well, which does not please Sybil (who was obviously hoping for some naked fun of her own with Christine). While this is going on sister Betty discovers some odd and slightly disturbing things in the cellar, things that suggest that the two sisters have stumbled across a coven of witches. Betty collapses from shock, and finds herself attended by a local doctor. At least he says he’s a doctor, although he seems more concerned with finding out if Betty is a virgin than with any strictly medical concerns.

The witches are about to hold a sabbath, and Christine persuades them to allow her to be initiated. Once she’s in they decide they want her sister as well, but Betty is not so enthusiastic. Her boyfriend turns up and is even less enthusiastic about the idea, and is especially worried about the lesbian high priestess. It’s all leading up to the climax you expect, but things don’t turn out as you might expect.

Most of the online reviews for this film are extremely negative, which I find rather puzzling. Yes, there’s a truly prodigious quantity of nudity in the film, but the common criticism that this is at the expense of any actual horror content is a little unfair. In fact it arguably has more horror content than some of Hammer’s movies of the same era, but the horror is done a little unconventionally which may have thrown some reviewers who prefer their British horror films to adhere fairly closely to a familiar pattern. The horror here is more about power relationships than dismembered bodies.

While I enjoy British horror films of the 60s and 70s they do tend to be (with a few exceptions) very conservative. You know that good will triumph and the evil vampires/witches/whatever will be destroyed. And that does make them a tad predictable.

This one avoids that predictability. Rather than having two innocent young women getting caught up in the machinations of an evil satanic cult, what we have here is a little different. It’s the witches who are out of their depth. They’re really fairly harmless, not much more than English eccentrics using witchcraft as an excuse to take their clothes off, indulge in some sexual shenanigans, shock the vicar and generally play at bring wicked and decadent. But in Christine they’ve encountered the real thing. She has real powers, and she’s willing to use them. And she has no inhibitions about the morality of using power over others.

That’s the clever twist. She’s not the classic heroine of British horror, tricked into becoming involved with the forces of darkness. She can hardly wait to get mixed up with dark forces. In fact it’s what she’s been waiting for all her life.

And while the very generous amounts of sex and nudity are mostly gratuitous, they do serve some purpose. For these witches witchcraft is mostly about sex. It’s mostly about getting laid. The witchcraft is a means of getting lots of illicit sex. But for Christine it’s the reverse - she uses sex to gain power, specifically occult power. And in this movie the women are not just there as potential victims or as sex objects - they’re the key players, they’re the ones fighting out the power games that matter.

And this movie doesn’t have the expected ending either.

The acting is quite good. Ann Michelle has some genuinely scary moments, and Patricia Haines is very good as the would-be predatory lesbian Sybil. They’re the two characters that matter most, but the other cast members are solid enough.

So there’s a little bit more to this movie than just lots of T&A, and even if you take it as just a blending of sexploitation and horror it still has enough unusual features to make it work successfully in both genres. And while it’s very British horror in style, it has more of the spectical somewhat amoral tone one associates with eurohorror.

Redemption’s DVD release is pretty impressive as well.


Shaun Anderson said...

Cool review of a little seen and largely forgotten film from the production company Tigon. They are generally best remembered now for Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan's Claw, the latter being my favourite British horror movie. You might find something of value and interest in my blog The Celluloid Highway.

dfordoom said...

Shaun, I totally agree about Blood on Satan's Claw - a terrific movie. Tigon made very few movies, but that handful of movies included at least three bona fide horror classics.

Samuel Wilson said...

A trailer for this film on a Something Weird DVD first aroused (ahem) my interest, so when I saw it offered by Redemption I snapped it up. You have the right read on it; it's underrated probably because people see it as sexploitation, but it's sexploitation with a point.

Rev. Phantom said...

Sweet! I've been wanting to check this out for a while, but have read too many negative reviews--but I think your taste in these kind of films is close to my own, so I will most definitely check this one out.

dfordoom said...

Reverend, I think you'll enjoy this one!