The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)
By: Mr Intolerance on February 5, 2009  | 
DVD
Subversive Cinema (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 83 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Matt Cimber
Starring: Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown, George "Buck" Flowers, Richard Kennedy
Screenplay: Robert Thom
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Now, if you've ever seen Botticelli's famous painting, "The Birth of Venus", you may or may not know the story behind it – Venus was born after Hera, the wife of Zeus, king of the ancient Greek gods, castrated him and threw his testicles into the sea in a fit of pique borne of jealousy. You really have to choose your girlfriends wisely in this day and age, eh fellas? From those humble nuts, Venus rose from the depths, and while I'm not going about calling a goddess a witch, well, that's the way she's explained to our rather unstable and molested as a child heroine, Molly, in this film. She empathises far too much with the character of Venus.

Now, when I first saw this film, I remember thinking, "how the hell was this ever branded a video nasty?" And indeed, it was one of the DPP's whipping boys back in the early 80s – yes, it does feature some graphic violence, and yes, it does have very heavy themes of incest, but considering that be being on that list it was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust, House on the Edge of the Park and Zombie Flesh Eaters, you've really got to wonder how that happened. Watching it again now, the same thought occurs to me. It's by no means an exploitative film, and the films' dealing with child sexual abuse is both sensitive to the victim, and ultimately tragic, while still conveying the horror of the act itself. This is no simple slasher film, and the more graphic content is actually off-screen. But I guess it's testimony to the film's power that both the BBFC and the MPAA were so mortified by what they didn't actually see on the screen, that the movie was banned outright in the UK and nearly got an X in the US, respectively. It did not deserve such harsh and censorious treatment.

Molly is one mixed up gal. Molested at a terribly young age by her father hiding naked in her closet, her relationships with the male of the species are problematic at best – even when looking at masculine or paternal-looking men, she fantasises about slaying them. This is all kept internalised, otherwise she wouldn't be allowed to look after her two nephews, Tadd and Tripoli as often as she does, boys she absolutely dotes on. She's mythologised her father in her mind as a good man, and as a sea captain who one day disappeared, but might one day return – presumably as some kind of coping mechanism (her sister Kathy only remembers him as a bum). She really has little hope of a normal life – fate has dealt her a bum hand from the bottom of the pack.

She desires men, and yet despises them at the same time – her visions of the musclemen at the beach are disturbing to say the least, centering on their muscles, their crotches and their deaths. When her nephews see "Jack Dracula's Tattoo Shop" they want tattoos as any young boy would, and the motif of being scarred for life physically, as a metaphor for being scarred for life as Molly is, is a recurrent one throughout the film. But her fascination with a mermaid tattoo at a later point of the film belies her admonition of her nephews' desires.

Molly romanticises the men that she likes into being demi-gods, and hallucinates about TV personalities and sports stars. Like I said, poor girl never really had a chance; her grasp on reality is barely better than tenuous, and her girlish demeanour fools people into thinking she's harmless. She's anything but. And drugs and booze are not her friends – or the friends of the people she's around when she's on them, particularly if they make accidental reference to sea-faring things – that father complex she's been scarred with is very strong indeed. So when one football hero she has tied to a bed calls himself her poppa (her pet-name for her sea-captain dad) and calls her a "silly cunt" after she's smoked a big fat cone, you just know he's gonna pay, big time. The echoey sound in this scene does tend to make you wonder if this is a dream, a flashback or a fantasy – but that would appear to be the point. How much of this is reality or fantasy? This is a key idea in the film, that gap between the real and the imagined. Molly's grasp on how real TV is, is a case in point – she believes in it the way a 5 year old would, at one point screaming that if something was on TV then it must be true.

In her workaday world as a cocktail waitress, Molly meets a lot of guys, plenty of whom are trying to put the make on her. Her way of dealing with them is to measure them up against her father – how do they rate against him as a man? Most are found to be wanting, but some she sees in a more positive light. Those ones are the ones in the most danger of being at the wrong end of something very bad indeed.

The implied scenes of incest are truly disturbing – they're thankfully not the graphic horrorshows you might be expecting, but they're certainly grimy and despicable snapshots of a proper life cut short before its time through a vulgar and debasing sexuality. Molly's father is little better than an animal, and her adherence to an image of him as an idol is positively bewildering, given her hideous experiences – possibly the idea that all little girls should have of their father, but without being tempered by the reality of his being a child-molesting piece of scum.

After nearly being molested by a Hollywood big name scumbag at a Hollywood big-name party, Molly goes to the bar she works at with some friends and pops a couple of pills – this is not likely to work out well for anyone she hangs out with. People haven't seemed to have realised yet that drugs and Molly don't mix well, and tend to release her inhibitions about killing men. Molly is, to all effects and purposes, still a child and the folks around her need to treat her as such – and you don't go about giving drugs to kids. Due to ther intensely traumatic experience Molly went through as a little girl, her level of social maturity has been grossly retarded to the point where she views her mundane, humdrum life through the rosiest pair of glasses imaginable and has turned her past into a fairytale as an escape mechanism – but when she's threatened, that's when the reality peers through the cracks and her true levels of pent-up fear, hatred and anger erupt.

Molly goes back to Jack Dracula's to get the same mermaid tattoo that her father had, which, in terms of her mental disintegration is not saying much for her state of mind. Matter of fact, it's further damning her into the world of self-perpetuating prophecy in which she lives. Molly's new boyfriend is under siege from his ex-girlfriend and her obvious wig and their magnum, and the coppers are starting to pay a bit of attention to her movements. And the boyfriend's getting a bit nervous about her, too. Mind you, given the fact that Molly's obviously off the air and out there where the trains don't run, that's hardly an arrestable offence.

Molly's becoming more unhinged by the minute – her paranoia even encompassing her own sister. This is about the moment where the film starts to pick up the pace, having being more than slightly measured and deliberate up until this point. "All football players are faggots, closet queens..." Never has a truer word of dialogue been spoken in a film. After all – all those big sweaty men rolling around on top of one another, and sharing showers? Poofs. And that seems to give Molly a head start away from the police, and a bit of an alibi, considering the way she left the two gridiron players she killed at the start of the film tied up – kind of made it look like they were indulging in some kind of gay bondage sex.

As the film winds its way to the close, the sad and tragic nature of The Witch Who Came From The Sea grows exponentially. It's a pitch black existential nightmare coruscating the American national psyche as much as it does Molly's own mind. We love the world we see on TV as much as we do the world we wish to live in, and that's what Molly gets, because it's what she wants. The real world – forget about it. Fantasy is so much more fulfilling. And can take the pain away. I guess that's what Molly looks for – and you have to pity her for it.
Video
Dean Cundey is the DP (first time out here – cinema history being made, kids), so the camerawork is sublime. The picture in this particular edition is in 2.35:1, the original aspect ratio, and has been anamorphically enhanced – not to mention remastered within an inch of its life. The picture is pretty damn good. The light, almost pastel nature of the colours seems strangely at odds with the darkness of the themes and the plot, as Cundey points out in one of the extras.
Audio
Also sharp as a tack. Might only be a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, but it sounds pretty good to the likes of me. This restoration job was a labour of love for someone. It's crisp and clear.
Extra Features
A reasonable package, given such an obscure film, and given the remastering job, which is a special feature in and of itself – there's an audio commentary with actress Millie Perkins, director Matt Cimber and DP Dean Cundey, a very interesting and revealing making-of featurette, "A Maiden's Voyage" (don't watch it before the film – there are spoilers), and text bios for Cimber, Perkins and Cundey (I never knew he shot Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks, for example – he rose in my estimation after I found that out), and also some trailers for The Witch Who Came From The Sea, Battlefield Baseball, Living Hell, (2 different trailers – the original one and one made by Subversive), and Gemini.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A much maligned classic, and one that deserves a much wider audience, The Witch Who Came From The Sea is a tragically pathetic tale, and one that needs to be seen by more people. Yeah, the pacing is a little slow, but this film packs a hell of a wallop. As a study of psychiatric trauma and the disability between telling what's real and what's not, it's pretty hard to top. As an empathetic character study it's also top-shelf. Video nasty? I don't think so. Sad and tragic tale of child abuse and its effects on later life? Much closer to the mark.

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