Following on with another entry into our Witchy Wonder and Demonic Delight season, today I bring you former DPP video nasty, The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976). For anyone who has already seen this, yes I am quite aware there are no witches in it, but the title fits, so it stays!
The Witch Who Came from the Sea might not feature anything remotely witchy, or supernatural for that matter, but it is a fantastic slab of grindhouse flavoured retro horror nevertheless, that provides an innovative riff on the old rape revenge theme. The story of the survivor of child sex abuse, Molly (Millie Perkins), now a grown woman, has invented a fantasy world surrounding her past to protect her from the true horror she has been subjected to. This involves telling her young nephews Tadd and Tivoli stories about their perfect sailor grandfather; who she insists was lost at sea. In fact Molly has quite a penchant for nautical things, she loves to sing sea shanties, lives in a rundown coastal town, and works at a coastal themed bar. Her father did used to love to get ‘lost at sea’ with young Molly when she was a kid, but this was code for something her young mind was incapable of understanding at the time. Her sister Cathy (Vanessa Brown) knew though, and now left to bring up her two young sons alone, she must also bear the responsibility for a sister who is getting more cuckoo by the day- and one who also enjoys getting loaded up on the booze like old Papa did too. But this isn’t the only thing Cathy has to worry about, with young men being violently murdered around the town and Molly’s jacket being found at one of the murder scenes has her sister really gone off the deep end this time?
Cast and Crew.
Now let’s get this out in the open, the acting involved in this picture is truly abysmal in places for some of the major parts. But, and this is a big but, strangely it works to add into the disconcerting aura the film carries. Millie Perkins, as Molly was a fairly experienced actress at the time; featuring in a number of films, including a debut as the legendary Anne Frank.-yet here her performance is almost devoid of all emotion and wooden to the core. However, because of Robert Thom’s curious script, the unnatural performances, especially that of Molly, seem in keeping with the offbeat tone of the piece. Molly coming over at times as both child-like and someone who lacks interpersonal skill making her a strongly sympathetic character. What is most interesting is that none of the main roles appear to be played by complete novices but there is something about the acting here that seems contrived, or forced across the board. I would be interested to know if this was something done intentionally or not. Either way, for whatever reason, one thing that can be said of The Witch Who Came from the Sea is that it has a really unique vibe all of its own. Whether that is a good or bad thing is for viewers to decide, but personally this was something that appealed to my love of the weird and wonderfulin underground cinema.
The director Matt Cimber did not work extensively in the genre- dabbling generally in low-budget action, drama and Blaxploitation flicks, as well as this. Apart from collecting an impressive amount of Razzies during his career (not for this picture I might hasten to add), there seems to be little to write home about in regards to Cimber. What is interesting when it comes to this feature is some of the surrounding crew involved in the production. Writer Robert Thom had already penned the cult hit Death Race 2000 (1975) the year before, and the odd flair evident in that particular script shines through in moments of The Witch Who Came from the Sea too. While ( the uncredited) cinematographer Dean Cundey moved on to work on many John Carpenter films- including the likes of Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980) Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982), before having an extensive career in blockbuster Hollywood productions.
It’s safe to say there probably wasn’t a lot of money involved in the making of this film- it has that really sordid barebones gritty look that defines American Independents of the era; this in my book is a plus point, but I am sure there are those who will find that element off-putting. There is gore and violence on offer and it is relatively explicit, however the standard of this leans on the cheap and cheerful side. What does stand out is how the editing is used to bring fantasy, past and present together- including some psychedelic shots here and there which all adds to the irregular aura of the feature. Sound is also manipulated to give the viewing experience an uncomfortable edge at times, with speech slowed down, or weird effects added.
The Witch Who came from the Sea might not be the most rowdy, infamous, or shocking entry into the DPP video nasties list. What it is, however, is one of the most curious and interesting. The film, that has been tagged as a horror/drama, inhabits a kind of no man’s land when it comes to summarising the content. It is violent and horrific in many ways, but Robert Thom’s truly bizarre script delivers something so deep in its meaning- covering less popular territory such as child sex abuse, in almost graphic style- that it is one film that definitely does not confine itself to any particular mould. The study of a fragile woman who has completely lost herself in a fantasy world following a past trauma, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, is certainly not your straight up grindhouse exploiter. The story, despite its cheap production values, and odd spectrum of performances involved, delivers something both tragic and touching in its final punchline. This will not be everyone’s cup of tea, that’s for sure, but for those who appreciate a bit of oddball seventies indie filmmaking that defies convention, then- like I did- I am sure you will find a lot to love in The Witch Who Came from the Sea.