When you pop in an entry from Hammer Films’ legendary horror film cycle, there is a certain subset of factors that one inherently expects from the resulting movie – Established veterans of macabre cinema such as Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, a powerhouse of evil that typically stems from literary roots a la Dracula and Frankenstein, and lastly, an array of women who persistently teeter on the edge of falling out of their linen nighties throughout the film’s running time.
Taking all of this into account, The Witches is something of an oddity in the Hammer Horror category.
In fact, as it veers away from the customary formula, it would also be a bit inaccurate to even call this work a horror story as the movie largely exists as a sort of whodunnit complete with red herrings and all the typical trimmings. And yet, considering the time of its release, the presence of black magic, and the suggestive American title, The Devil’s Own, this Joan Fontaine vehicle was bound to be tied in with the rest of Hammer’s horrific efforts.
But when looked at as a separate entity, and judging from its own merits, how does it perform?
Quite well actually.
To be sure, there are many traits entwined in this movie that are characteristically Hammer despite all of its variance. For instance, we still have a number of actors and actresses playing minor roles with little conviction or acting chops, and the underlying plot has a tendency to get more than a little muddled as each of the storylines unravel, but to its credit, none of these flaws are ever glaringly awkward or distracting either.
As it stands, The Witches is a downright earnest effort from the B-movie warehouse of Hammer with a very compelling performance from our leading lady (who is endlessly cocking that left eyebrow). Of course, it wavers toward the area of cliche, and it never quite achieves the status of masterful film-making, but as an entertaining, mysterious adventure that is full of good ideas, the magic that emanates from “The Witches” elevates itself to being one of the more memorable and curious “Hammer Horror” productions within the classic cycle.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5