You never know what’s hiding in the nooks and crannies of the American landscape. Take the Louisiana swampland covered in THE WITCHMAKER. Not only does it have a dark and dangerous legacy, the locals are pretty casual about it. As one old timer says, “Some towns are famous for their rhubarb. We was famous for our witches.”
The old man is telling the news to a film crew scouting for locations, and he gives a couple half-hearted warnings before dropping them off at an isolated cabin for a week. But the film crew isn’t really a film crew. It’s a research team made up of a college professor, his students and a few assistants. They took the ill-advised voyage to investigate possible supernatural activity in the bayou. A few women have found themselves murdered and drained of blood and Prof. Hayes (Alvy Moore) suspects witchcraft. He’s right too.
The killings are the work of Luther the Berserk (John Lodge), a man hundreds of years old, who goes around wearing an itchy-looking coat and drinking the blood of young women. Luther is one of twelve members of a worldwide coven (sometimes pronounced “coh-ven” here, much to the delight of the AMERICAN MOVIE guys I’m sure) and he’s looking to bring that number up to the more traditional thirteen. He sets his eyes on the professor’s beautiful student, Tasha (Thordis Brandt), who is serving as the professor’s “sensitive” in order to pinpoint possible supernatural activity.
THE WITCHMAKER was famously marketed to make the most of the titillation factor. A teasing tagline asked, “Is there sex after death?” Indeed, there is a good amount of erotic skin on display. But any actual naughty bits are strategically covered, meaning this could probably get a run on television with few cuts beyond the first scene. And it did. THE WITCHMAKER was a staple of UHF television back in the day.
Another throwback to a more innocent time is the character of Prof. Hayes, whose vocabulary is not too far removed from Ned Flanders. But Moore offers one of the film’s best performances. His professor character is not just some pencil-pusher who gets in over his head. Hayes keeps an open yet rational mind when things get dangerous. All the same, one scene in which he discovers the sad fate of one of his students is both realistic and haunting. A lot of the dialogue in William O. Brown’s script suggests he was striving for something a little loftier than your typical trashy drive-in epic.
THE WITCHMAKER does indeed deliver quite a few surprises. It takes an old AIP-style story and then adds all sorts of craziness. We’re talking spells, murders, orgiastic bacchanals and people who worship a golden demon figure that sort of looks like Burgess Meredith sitting on the toilet. There’s also an old hag who gets a youth whammy that turns her into a total GILF.
It takes a bit of patience to get to the good stuff. But once you do, THE WITCHMAKER delivers. Recommended.
ABOUT 31 DAYS OF HORROR
For the month of October, I and a number of other people are taking part in the 31 Days of Horror Challenge. Each day in October, we watch one horror film and share our opinions through social media. Because my reviews tend to run longer than what they’re supposed to, and because I never know when to stop myself, I’ll also be posting my reviews here as part of Moviocrity.com’s revitalization efforts.
RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA
- What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
- In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.