Friday, April 14, 2017


Bert I. "Mr. Big" Gordon's take on ROSEMARY'S BABY
 and all things Satanic 70's with Orson Wells and Pamela Franklin !

"Life To The Dead And Death To the Living...."

    During the 1970s when he wasn't appearing on Johnny Carson or shilling on TV commercials for wine that's located on the bottom shelf in chain grocery stores Orson Welles lent his presence and distinctive voice to a wide-ranging slate of projects including this 1970 effort from Bert I. "Mr. Big" Gordon (THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN & EMPIRE OF THE ANTS). Gordon who leading up this seemed to be attempting a "throw everything against the wall and see what sticks" style of film as his output included family matinee fare, a (very bad) sex comedy and thrillers before jumping on the 70's Satan bandwagon with this project.
   Written, produced and directed by Gordon it was shot in 1970 but legal wrangling kept it unreleased until 1972 when Cinerama released it often double-billing it with their Euro imports such as the 1972 version of BLUEBEARD with Richard Burton. In 1983 it was re-edited with additional nude scenes shot (by persons unknown and a bit from the original shoot) in a satanic orgy with the original lopped off and Fred Karger's invocation score replaced by a cheesy 70's synthesizer where it was released under the title THE WITCHING. There are some surviving stills that show that Gordon originally filmed a harder cut before trimming it down.

 I love phone shots in movies !

    After their baby boy is born dead Lori Brandon (Pamela Franklin THE INNOCENTS and LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) and her husband Frank (Michael Ontkean TV's THE ROOKIES & TWIN PEAKS) decide to move from Los Angeles to the small town of Lilith where Frank has accepted a position at a toy factory owned by Mr. Cato (Orson Welles). While driving there the couple witness a fiery car crash where at the scene Lori finds a creepy rag doll with fingernail clippings in the doll's pockets (which would seemingly send any sane person screaming straight back to the big city). After they inexplicably run out of gas Frank hikes to a station and Lori is drawn by the sounds of chanting to a strange funeral overseen by folks in black robes who all suddenly disappear and the returning Frank insisting she dreamt it all.
    Upon arriving in Lilith the find everybody nice & friendly in a Stepford Wives and/or satanic cult sort of way and while at dinner with Mr. Cato he strangely explains that his workers create "magic rather than toys". Paying special interest in Lori. Mr. Cato encourages her to read a black arts book entitled Grande Grimore while at the same time she begins to noticing disquieting things about town as they are no children or adults over the age of 30 besides Mr. Cato. She also befriends a strange young woman & coven member (Lee Purcell MR. MAJESTYK) who runs a local store filled with mysterious bric-a-brac.

     Drawing on many tropes from various movies as anyone whose seen ROSEMARY"S BABY can guess the motives of husband Frank (although compared to Cassavetes Broadway aspirations in ROSEMARY'S BABY, Frank and his desire to be a big wig in toy factory seems a bit trivial). NECROMANCY doesn't break a whole lot of new ground but Gordon does maintain an atmosphere of slowly encroaching dread along with parading a checklist of an occult movie set pieces including flashes of a goat-headed demon, images mysteriously appearing on tarot cards and in goblets along with robed figures chanting. There's also a WTF rat attack that suddenly appears out of nowhere as well as a bizarre pre-credit sequence with Franklin floating through space. Awash in bright sunshine it has a definite post-Manson 70's hippie California vibe to it (it was filmed in Los Gatos) and would make an excellent double feature with 1971's BROTHERHOOD OF SATAN.
     Pamela Franklin who had appeared as a child actress in Jack Clayton's classic THE INNOCENTS in 1960 and Hammer's THE NANNY from 1965 was one of few genre actors who moved easily into adult roles such as the sadly fallen through the cracks AND SOON THE DARKNESS from 1974 and the outstanding THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE in 1973. Franklin (who's never looked prettier) has an odd accent here as it floats from British to American (sometimes in the same sentence) but does an admirable job with Gordon's sometimes head-scratching dialogue. She meant her husband Harvey Jason (COLD TURKEY) on this film and they remain married to this day and he owns the Mystery Pier bookstore in West Hollywood.
    Wells with a large prosthetic nose reads his lines with all the somber tones of a Shakespeare tragedy and seems to be trying to channel Vincent Price in one of his Corman/Poe roles. Although obviously slumming it here he brings a sense of nobility to the proceedings.
     Code Red's Blu-Ray release of Gordon's original theatrical version oddly has an MPAA PG rating card at the beginning of the film but then finishes with an R card. Featuring some topless nudity (courtesy of Sue Bernard from FASTER,PUSSYCAT KILL ! KILL !) and some fleeting Pamela boobies it was one of those 70's movies that as released straddled both ratings and could have very easily carried a PG in spite of the bare flesh.

"We'll sell no wine before it's time"