THE WITCHES. (1966) A HAMMER FOLK HORROR REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

THE WITCHES. (1966) A HAMMER FILM PRODUCTION. ADAPTED BY NIGEL KNEALE FROM NORAH LOFTS’ BOOK, ‘THE DEVIL’S OWN.’ DIRECTED BY CYRIL FRANKEL.

STARRING JOAN FONTAINE, ALEC MCCOWEN, KAY WALSH, MICHELE DOTRICE, GWEN FFRANGCON-DAVIES, INGRID BRETT AND LEONARD ROSSITER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is not my favourite Hammer horror film, as it’s a little short on sex, Hammer glamour and ginormous boobies, but it’s still a really decent, unsettling folk horror movie, which is one of my favourite sub-genres of horror.

Set in a little English village in modern times (well, the ‘Sixties), it stars Hollywood Golden Age actress Joan Fontaine (REBECCA, SUSPICION, JANE EYRE) in the lead role of Gwen Mayfield.

Joan is the sister of the Little Johnny Live-A-Lot also known as Hollywood Golden Age actress Olivia de Havilland, who died over the summer (yes, this summer!) at the staggering age of 104. What great longevity some of these old Hollywood broads had! Their male contemporaries rarely lived this long.

Anyway, Gwen Mayfield is a school teacher who takes up a post in a tiny rural English village called Heddaby. Her last post before this was in Africa, where her run-in with the witchcraft practised by the natives caused her to have a breakdown.

Her new employer is the strange and rather monosyllabic Reverend Alan Bax, played by Alec McCowen, who might be best known for his wonderful portrayal of a homicide detective, Chief Inspector Oxford, driven culinarily demented by a wife who’s been doing a gourmet cookery course, in Alfred Hitchcock’s FRENZY (1972).

God Almighty, all the poor chap wants is a decent dinner after a hard day’s detecting, but the weird and sometimes inedible fare his wife serves up is barely enough to feed one of the poor quails who sadly died and found its way on to her menu.

Anyway, as for the Reverend Alan Bax, well, there’s a mystery there all right, but it will be a while before Miss Mayfield is able to determine whether he’s a friend or a foe in the strange situation in which she finds herself enmeshed in Heddaby.

Odd things happen in her new locale that makes Gwen wonder if perhaps her parish of superstitious villagers back in Africa isn’t too different from the quaint little backward-thinking village of Heddaby after all, where the locals favour healing with herbs over calling in a medically-trained doctor.

A teenage boy falls ill and is spirited away by his mother, just as a headless boy doll is found in a tree with a bunch of voodoo pins stuck all over him. The boy’s father is found drowned. A teenage girl is allegedly being abused by the grandmother she lives with and then the girl goes missing. There’s a very WICKER MAN vibe about the whole thing.

If Gwen hadn’t actively come up against witchcraft in her little African village, she might not now be so quick to come to the conclusion that the villagers of Heddaby are practising the black arts.

But come to it she does, and not only that. She also comes to another conclusion, that a young girl’s life is in danger (think Rowan Morrison), and that no-one’s efforts but her own can save the girl now…

I love Leonard Rossiter (RISING DAMP, THE FALL AND RISE OF REGINALD PERRIN) as Dr. Wallis, and Michele Dotrice (Betty Spencer, Frank’s long-suffering wife, in sitcom SOME MOTHERS DO ‘AVE ‘EM) as Miss Mayfield’s sort of maid-cum-cleaning lady.

Michele Dotrice, a terrific actress, and not just in comedy roles, also appears in two other fabulous horror films, BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, which is very definitely a folk horror, and also AND SOON THE DARKNESS, a murder mystery which is very folky in its setting, in my humble whatsit.

I also love Kay Walsh, once married to film director David Lean, as Alan Bax’s bossy middle-aged sister Stephanie, a magazine writer and the type of woman who’ll wear wellies to walk the dogs and who tells people what they ought to do in any given situation without having been asked for her advice even slightly.

I would have loved it if, instead of magazine articles, she’d been an Agatha Christie-style writer of crime novels or murder mysteries, like Auriol Lee as Isobel Sedbusk in Alfred Hitchcock’s SUSPICION (1941), for her role in which superb suspense thriller Joan Fontaine actually won a Best Actress Oscar, incidentally.

Anyway, THE WITCHES is a tiny bit hokey but it looks gorgeous, and Joan Fontaine, sporting the most bouffant of bouffant hairstyles, is absolutely brilliant at looking shocked, surprised and frightened in it. Joanie channels her best Tippi Hedren (THE BIRDS) here, in her olive-green ensemble, and Kay Walsh is a dead ringer for dear old Bette Davis in her horror cossie.

There’s a smart cat called Vesper in it, and also a sort of wild, fruit-based orgy amongst the natives in which you’ll probably be praying, like me, for the participants to please keep their clothes on. You’ll enjoy watching this horror classic, I promise you. It’s great fun.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

JANE EYRE. (1943) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

jane eyre- weddingJANE EYRE. (1943) BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY CHARLOTTE BRONTE. DIRECTED BY ROBERT STEVENSON. STARRING JOAN FONTAINE, ORSON WELLES, AGNES MOOREHEAD, MARGARET O’BRIEN, HILLARY BROOKE, HENRY DANIELL AND ELIZABETH TAYLOR AS HELEN. MUSIC BY BERNARD HERRMANN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

It’s so funny that this film should have been on the good old BBC2 today, because just this very week I’d been telling people that I wanted to properly read and, in some cases, re-read a selection of the classics.

Books like JANE EYRE and Charlotte’s sister Emily Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS, not to mention Jane Austen’s and Charles Dickens’ works in their entirety. That’s some tall order, innit, but watching this fabulous screen adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s deliciously Gothic novel has only whetted my appetite and now I’m raring to go. Let’s see how far I get, shall we…?

Joan Fontaine, whose sister Olivia De Havilland is miraculously still alive aged over one-hundred, is sublime as the poverty-stricken governess Jane Eyre. This and REBECCA and SUSPICION are my favourite films of Joan Fontaine’s. She has the face and voice of an angel and was absolutely the perfect choice for Jane in this movie.

Actually, there are a lot of similarities between her roles in JANE EYRE and REBECCA. In REBECCA (1941), she plays the un-named female companion who is obliged to trail behind the obnoxious Mrs. Van Hopper in Monte Carlo because she’s utterly impoverished since the death of her father and, frankly, urgently needs the pay-check.

Here she comes to the attention of the rich and embittered Maxim De Winter, who marries her after a whirlwind courtship and whisks her off to his fantastic Gothic family home of Manderley in Cornwall, England. Nice work if you can get it, eh? From poorly-paid and looked-down-upon ‘friend of the bosom’ to mistress of Manderley in one easy step…

The little paid companion couldn’t be happier, of course, but it seems that there is some mystery surrounding the first Mrs. De Winter, the deceased and titular Rebecca and, whatever it is, it’s making Maxim desperately unhappy. Worse, it’s stopping the newly-married couple from enjoying themselves, their new-found love and their marriage…

In JANE EYRE, Joan Fontaine plays a dirt-poor little English governess who is employed to take care of a little French girl called Adele, in the country household of the rich and mysterious Mr. Edward Rochester.

This is only, however, after she’s endured ten hard cold years at the brutal Lowood Institution For Girls and nearly a decade more as the un-wanted orphaned niece of her hard cold Aunt Reed and her fat bully of a son, Jane’s Cousin John.

As this is England in the first trimester, as it were, of the nineteenth century, you can imagine how rough it was for anyone but the rich and privileged. An impoverished female would have been at the very bottom of the totem-pole, so to speak.

Jane probably falls head-over-heels in love with the dashing Mr. Rochester the instant she meets him by accident on the moors at night. How romantic is that, eh? The moors at night? Beats locking eyes over an over-priced bag of chips and a battered sausage in Dublin’s Temple Bar on a crowded Saturday night, does that…!

Mr. Rochester, the Heathcliff of this book/film, is superbly played by that lion of a man, Orson Welles. He cuts a magnificent figure in his knee-boots and riding breeches, with the confidence and arrogance that comes with a lifetime of privilege and giving the orders.

He’s as taken with the stubborn, virtuous Jane as she undoubtedly is with him, but he toys with her and makes her think he’s going to marry the proud and haughty aristocratic Blanche Ingram before eventually crushing Jane to his manly bosom and declaring his undying love for her. Handsome and overpoweringly charismatic he might be, but he’s still a total prick when it comes to how to treat women…!

Jane and Edward’s tragic story plays out against the fabulous, awe-inspiring backdrop of the oh-so-Gothic Thornfield Hall, with its forbidden tower that houses a strange occupant whom Jane hears laughing maniacally in the night but never sees. An occupant that may have tried to kill Mr. Rochester by burning him to death in his bed, who must be watched night and day by a dour and forbidding-looking woman called Grace Poole…

No fewer than three actors appear here who have also popped up in the Basil Rathbone- Nigel Bruce SHERLOCK HOLMES movies (1939-1945). Henry Daniell is wonderful as the mean old Mr. Brocklehurst who runs the charitable institution of Lowood. He once played Moriarty to Basil Rathbone’s world-famous detective, even bearding him rather cheekily in his own den at 221B Baker Street.

This was in THE WOMAN IN GREEN, an utterly ‘mesmerising’ watch, heh-heh-heh. In the same film Hillary Brooke (Blanche Ingram) tried to hypnotise the great detective, with limited results, it must be said.

In SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE HOUSE OF FEAR, Aubrey Mather, in JANE EYRE a genial house-guest of Mr. Rochester’s and an uncle to Blanche Ingram, plays Alastair. He’s the only Good Comrade not trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the law (represented ably here by Dennis Hoey as Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard) by illegally profiting from the mysterious ‘deaths’ of his friends.

I feel all romantic and dreamy after watching this. Reality, sadly, is much less Gothically romantic, so I’m off now to see about the dinner and get some clothes sorted out for the week to come. Yes, yes, I know, boring…! Enjoy the film if you watch it. As an escape from the daily grind, you honestly couldn’t do better.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

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