Monday, April 1, 2013

The Witchmaker 1969

  "They Came to Investigate Witchcraft...And Found Terror !"

     Low budget  "swamp witch" occult movie filmed in Louisiana and co-produced by western character actor/Peckinpah stock guy L.Q. Jones & co-star Alvy Moore (best known as Hank Kimball - the county farm agent on T.V.'s Green Acres). The on screen title is The Legend of Witch Hollow, but The Witchfinder makes more sense as it takes place in a swamp, without a holler' to be seen.
   Alvy plays Dr. Ralph Haynes who leads a group of researchers into the swamp to investigate weird stuff going on there, while they stay at an isolated cabin (sorta like a combination of Robert Wise's The Haunting and future The Evil Dead/ "Spam in a Cabin" genre).
  Among his companions are Dragnet regular Anthony Eisley playing journalist Victor Gordon and German born actress Thordis Brandt (who appeared in a "snapshot" cameo in the 1966 Dragnet pilot) as Anastasia, a medium who's descended from a witch. And looky here ! - the old boatman guy that takes them into the swamp is played by none other then Burt Mustin who played the grouchy old guy on tons of Dragnet episodes (and every other T.V. show in the 60's) whenever they needed a grouchy old guy and Charles Lane was busy. As a huge Dragnet fan I kept expecting Joe Friday to come sauntering out of the underbrush, utter a few pithy comments and wrap this thing up in about 20 minutes.

   An opening prologue shows a woman (Susan Bernard from Faster, Pussycat Kill! Kill!) swimming alone in her skivvies in scummy swamp water. After emerging from the water she's strangled by an unseen person, who then draws a symbol on her belly after which he strings her upside down and drains her blood. We're then introduced to the group of researchers and after some character set-up they arrive at the cabin, which naturally has no phone and is cut off from the outside world. Soon after arriving there they are spied on by the witch/warlock Luther the Berserk (wonderfully played by John Lodge) - who is reveled to be the killer from the prologue. He senses that Anastasia has got some witch blood in her and decides to indoctrinate her into his coven. He starts by trying some mind control on her while she's sunbathing with the end result being she wakes up topless and runs screaming toward the cabin in slo-motion while cupping her breasts in her hands (in one of the movies more surreal moments - heck, one of the more surreal moments in ANY movie).

   Luther then enlists the aid of elderly witch Jesse (Helene Winston) who turns young and foxy after he preforms a ritual on her with some more blood from one of the other female researchers (again stringing her up in a tree). Luther soon enlists the aid of even more witches and warlocks by conjuring them up in his underground altar room after which they engage in an ongoing orgy and all the while he's still attempting to bamboozle Anatasia into the flock (no doubt he's got his eye on her for the orgy). With the help of the old standby "wild garlic" Prof. Haynes & Victor battle the hordes from hell to the climatic ending (with a surprise final shot !).
  With bunches of near nudity (often hanging moss or a convenient twig helping cover, plus above mentioned hands), blood, women wondering thru swamps in negligees and scenery chewing warlocks. Directed  (and written - with help from L.Q.) by William O. Brown (who had previously just done industrial training films). L.Q. Jones and Alvy Moore would later collaborate on 1971's The Brotherhood of Satan.

   The movie drags a bit in the beginning and whenever Luther the Berserk isn't around it does slow down, but the widescreen photography adds some class and the spooky mist filled swamp setting helps immensely  with the atmosphere. Luther's altar room has pretty impressive set design for a low budget movie and despite some unintentional laughs the movie does try and play dead serious with its subject matter. Available on DVD from Code Red.

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