Now, a phrase like “reasonably unpredictable” shouldn’t be parsed by readers, and I will provide a brief clarification as I think it appropriate. “Reasonably unpredictable” doesn’t mean that I cannot foresee all narrative elements; rather, there should be an acceptable mix of surprises along with twists we can generally accept as obvious. Since there are only a handful of main plotlines used in what we’re told in all stories, it’s safe to assume some developments can and might be expected, but if the majority of what comes to pass is rather easy to assume in advance then most likely there’s going to be an uphill battle for all involved to ratchet up any palpable tension amongst these players.
And – hey – maybe palpable tension isn’t even necessary, am I right? Maybe what truly matters most in a ghost or spirit or even a phantom’s tale is the ethereal quality? The way the story might drift back and forth between what’s real, what’s imagined, and what’s not could take priority over all of the film’s aesthetics, in which case viewers might suffer a kind of jet lag upon conclusion, asking themselves, “What the Hell did I just watch?” Good tomes of this type are hard to come by; you know ‘em when you see ‘em, and even then it’s hard to describe the experience after the fact when talking about such a spectacle among friends.
The Witch (1966) tries very hard to evoke the right atmosphere for its kinda/sorta spectral analysis of an otherworldly relationship. Men have been chasing women since the dawn of time, so maybe someone should’ve lowered the bar here. While it succeeds in a very limited fashion (which I’ll discuss below), I thought it misfired more than it should’ve, making it a bit of a slog, a bit of a mess, and a bit of a yawn.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A womanizing author is lured to a mansion by an old woman under the guise of working as a librarian. Her daughter, Aura, appears out of nowhere and begins to seduce him. Little does he know, Aura doesn’t actually exist.”
As a man, I think I long ago reached that fateful point in my life wherein I finally made peace with the fact that there’s more to existence that I’ll never understand than there is within my grasp. And, yes, as a man, that means women – the fairer sex – I do see as beyond my personal comprehension.
I know, I know. To some that statement may sound a bit sexist. I can only plead innocence as I don’t mean it that way. Perhaps a better way of saying it would be that I’ve come to accept that I’ll never quite grasp why men – some men, or at least me – find women so mysterious. I don’t pretend to know all there is about motivations and desires, and women have this ineffable quality to transcend the ordinary in ways that escape me. In fact, I think that’s part and parcel of what makes The Witch (1966) a good film, but I also suspect it’s why I found it so unfulfilling.
Our protagonist – Sergio Logan (played by Richard Johnson) – clearly has issues in managing his attraction to the ladies, and director Damiano Damiani gets a solid performance out of the man enslaved to a degree by his own overworked libido. Logan detaches very quickly from one beautiful woman in pursuit of the next, and this presumed intellectual allows himself rather easily to be manipulated to the point of – ahem – committing murder at the behest of a lady he’s just met but fallen head-over-heels for. Yes, he’s probably just the stuff of a screenwriter’s invention, but so is very much of this melodramatic ghost story that never quite finds solid footing.
In fact, there’s honestly very little story in here.
The Witch is more about setting and tone. It rather quickly dispenses with adding layers to its story. In fact, nearly all of the film takes place within a rather spookily contrived mansion (with great production detail), and the outside world only breaks through in glimpses here and there. While the script features a few good exchanges between its few characters, the bulk of the conflict stays perfectly fixed around the resulting sexual tension and little else. While a few good scenes with a few good scraps of dialogue do help to keep an audience’s focus, I found that there’s just not enough substance to give the scenes not about the laws of attraction enough grounding. Vague suggestions are dropped here and there about what ghostly parascience might be responsible for all of this, but it’s all too obvious far too much of the time.
Still, I’d argue that The Witch excels quite nicely when it stays focused – front-and-center – on that alluring quality of – you guessed it – the woman. She’s man’s greatest mystery, and the film handles that assertion rather deftly when given the chance.
I guess that’s why I’m so surprised that the rest of The Witch doesn’t seem very inviting much less interesting.
It’s a fairly tame affair, one that truly only percolates visually when Aura’s hormones are in overdrive – for good and bad intent – and feels more than a bit bookish about authentic relationships. Anyone whose been in a real pairing admits that there are highs and lows – peaks and valleys – but the only drive that seems to exist here is the carnal one. (Let it be known that there’s more than spirits that love to go ‘bump’ in the night, am I right?) A film so feverishly committed to the indefinable quality of the woman to captivate both the body and the mind of man with something as easy as a whisper or a glance or an expression maybe deserved something a bit deeper. Come its big finish, I was happier that it was all over – probably more than I should’ve been – and wondering what all the fuss was really about.
The Witch (1966) was produced by Arco Film. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the reliable Arrow Films – it’s one of four films featured in their 2022 collection, Gothic Fantastico: Four Italian Tales Of Terror. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I found the sights and sounds of this chiller to be of exceptional quality; I have read that this is an all-new 2K restoration from the film’s original negatives. As for the special features? The promotional materials indicate that the disc includes a new commentary from author Kat Ellinger, a video essay from author Miranda Corcoran, an interview with author Antonio Tentori, and a few cursory extras. It’s a nice collection, though based entirely on my impression on the film I’ll likely not spend much time with these.
Honestly, I struggled much more with The Witch (1966) than I usually do with older Horror films, and I think that’s largely because so very little actually happens in its 110 minutes. On top of that, much of what does transpire is more than a bit predictable given the circumstances. While a thinner cut may’ve been the way to go so far as this reviewer is concerned, there’s still no compelling reason I can think of to ever revisit this yarn, meaning maybe it’s just left best as a one-timer in the vast pantheon of things that kinda/sorta go bump in the night … but not so much.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray screener copy of The Witch (1966) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.