❉ An cult curio of ‘70s horror, recently released on Blu Ray by Arrow Video.
“Released in 1976, and later caught up in the video nasty scare in the 80’s, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is a woozy proto slasher with a feminist slant and gaze, rare for the genre even to this day… a real cult oddity which stumbles from time to time but in some ways was years ahead of other horror films of the era.”
Firstly, a quick word of warning about the original poster art included here on Arrow Video’s release. Fully painted like a pulp dime store paperback, it depicts lead actress Millie Perkins wearing nothing but a cape against a dark green skyscape, a bloody scythe in one hand held aloft and a decapitated head dripping blood into the roiling sea below. It is certainly impressive. And in classic exploitation cinema style it has absolutely nothing to do with the film itself. It is the most opposite representation imaginable of what the film is actually offering, a real cult oddity which stumbles from time to time but in some ways was years ahead of other horror films of the era.
Released in 1976, and later caught up in the video nasty scare in the 80’s, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is a woozy proto slasher with a feminist slant and gaze, rare for the genre even to this day. Perkins plays Molly, a bartender in a seaside town. The film opens with a striking sequence wherein Molly sits on a near empty beach watching bodybuilders at an outdoor gym. What at first seems to be the female gaze in full effect; the bodybuilders stretching and balancing their muscular toned bodies, captured strikingly by legendary cinematographer Dean Cundey, soon descends to a scene of all out slaughter, the bodybuilders hanging lifeless from their equipment culminating in an exaggerated, animated gush of blood that floods the screen.
As well as tending bar and daydreaming of murdering random men, Molly dotes on her nephews and idolises her missing father, claiming he sailed off to explore the sea. These fantasies however hide a disturbing truth about their relationship and if Molly did not come across as ”a far out broad” already, her psychopathic fantasies start to bleed into the real world.
This is an interesting curio of 70’s horror cinema. On a surface level there is much pleasure to be had in Cundey’s photography as it captures the small town dingy bar scene, pool parties and mirrored bedrooms in all their washed-out glory. Director Matt Cimber and screenwriter Robert Thom also capture the hangover vibe from the hippie era perfectly as the characters self-medicate, drink their problems away and jump into bed with each other at the drop of a hat.
The film works as a critique of this lifestyle and as a comment on the effects of the easy delusions offered by television and the television actors who frequent the bar espousing shockingly casual misogynistic views. Where it fumbles however is in its treatment of abuse and the long-lasting effects it causes, one scene descends into tasteless exploitation which leaves a bad taste. Perkins gives a striking and sympathetic performance however, managing to deliver the scripts florid dialogue more successfully than the rest of the cast who quite frankly struggle with it.
A weird mix of exploitation and psychological drama the film’s director director Matt Cimber, who previously worked in the blaxploitation genre, delivered a slasher film years before the slasher genre dominated horror cinema. Arrow Video have done well by it, not only releasing the film under their American Horror Project banner giving it a spotlight but also with the generous wealth of extras included here including interviews and commentaries with Cimber, Cundey and Perkins, who admits to refusing the existence of the film to her children, worried what they may think of her after viewing it. Whilst understandable from a parental point of view the film can now be viewed as a distinct cult piece, offering a female character who stands out as both aggressor and victim.
DVD/Blu-Ray Director-Approved Special Edition Contents:
2K restoration from original vault materialsHigh Definition Blu-ray presentation
Original Mono Audio
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Introduction to the film by Nightmare USA author Stephen Thrower
Audio commentary with producer-director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
Tides and Nightmares – brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with Cimber, Perkins, Cundey and actor John Goff
A Maiden’s Voyage – archive featurette comprising interviews with Cimber, Perkins and Cundey
Lost at Sea – director Cimber reflects on his notorious cult classic
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by The Twins of Evil
❉ The Witch Who Came In From The Sea is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video. Region: Free. Rating: 18. Duration: 88 mins. BD RRP: 19.99, DVD RRP: 15.99.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.