20 December 2010


United States – 1985
Director – Vincent J. Privitera
Video Treasures, 1990, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 32 minutes

When I saw this on the shelf at the thrift store, I felt that I was being pressured, browbeaten, and even taunted into buying it by the singular, menacing name on the box. Shelley Winters. The movie sinks or floats on the power of that name alone, and that is all you need to know to justify its purchase, rental or theft. Not knowing who Shelley Winters was only deepened my feelings of guilty ignorance, playing upon heretofore suppressed feelings of inadequacy and making it all the more necessary to paper over the deep rifts in my spirit with the purchase of this dollar ninety-nine indulgence.

Shelley Winters many years before Witchfire
During a long career that began during the Second World War, Winters began as an up and coming blonde bombshell actress, but rejected this role both on screen and in her public persona, and instead actively challenged expected feminine norms. Some 45 years later in Witchfire, she actively challenged my tolerance for shrill, embarrassing nonsense. Her character Lydia is a patient at a psychiatric hospital where the handsome young doctor has just driven his car off a cliff. In an attempt to calm their psychoses, the interim doctor allows Lydia and two other aggrieved female patients to attend his funeral. Led by the intrepid Lydia the ladies escape and hide out in the nearby woods at her childhood home. It is there that she burned her family to death as a child, resulting we are left to assume for lack of any evidence other than the criminally deceptive title, in her subsequent mental illness and pharmaceutical treatment for such. Lydia claims to be a witch with the ability to cast a spell which will resurrect the dead doctor and bring him back to comfort them. Without their medication however, the three women begin the descent into unscripted madness. When a strapping hunter conveniently appears, they assume that he is the returned doctor and a few tepid minutes of climax splutter and ooze across the screen like the exudate from a carbuncle.

Witchfire, but not Shelley Winters
Witchfire is a slow-motion train-wreck in progress engineered (literally) by the nonsensical ad-libbing of Winters. I am not embarrassed to admit that I devolved into a more primitive mental state, debasing the film at every turn, and seeking whatever crude and degenerate sport I could make of this scintillatingly flogable carcass. What my desperate vulture-like mind latched on to were an extra’s boobs, (see right. Despite a love scene with The Hunter which generated some base anticipatory tension, patient Julietta (Corinne Chateau) doesn’t grace the screen with her presents) and the little kid from Over The Top (David Mendenhall) who performs the exact same role here, and receives a satisfying smack across the face from his dad, the very same Hunter. That I enjoyed these two moments so much is equally the fault of Witchfire and my own weak will, but assigning blame is irrelevant when the end result is the same.

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