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The Witches aka The Devil’s Own (Blu-ray Review)

We keep demanding “More Hammer Please!” and Scream Factory has pleasantly obliged. Its been a mixture of upgraded editions and debuts, and I think they are doing a admirable job so far. I’m sure they’ll pull some big gun out here sooner or later too. The March contribution is the Joan Fontaine-led The Witches (Which seems to have been more known as “The Devil’s Own”). The only real new thing for this release is the commentary that brings on board author and filmmaker Ted Newson to discuss the film. The documentary included on here has been a part of another Hammer release in the past, but the documentary is great and the release its a part of is out of print. So, all the more reason to bring it back. I’ve been one excited by these releases and the label dipping into all sorts of pre-1970s horror gems good and bad this year. The Witches is available now and you can grab yourself a copy from the Shout! Factory website or Amazon link below.

Film 

Haunted by the terrors of her experience with African witch-doctors, school teacher Gwen Mayfield (Joan Fontaine, Rebecca) accepts an appointment as headmistress at the Haddaby School run by Alan Bax (Alec McCowen, Frenzy) and his sister Stephanie (Kay Walsh, Stage Fright). Gwen initially revels in the peacefulness she has found in the quiet English countryside but soon begins to sense “undercurrents.” Before long, a local boy falls into a coma and Gwen discovers a voodoo doll impaled by pins. The danger that follows brings her face to face with witchcraft as a series of disasters unfold and lead her to the horrible truth.

The Witches (Known to US audiences as The Devil’s Own) is one of those “something’s up with this small town” movies in the vein of something like The Wicker Man but predating that cult classic by seven years. The film features an oddly inviting color scheme no different than that of the rich period pieces that Hammer is known for, but in this case adds a unique feel to The Witches. Its all rather well lit and the terror comes from that classic gothic vibe in some spots. Its mostly based on the unsettling secrets and characters that you’re not sure whether to trust or not and wonder if they are normal as they come off.

Hammer’s film isn’t without some creeptastic imagery that happens sporadically through the film. There are beacons and symbols of witchcraft that look all to genuine throughout the movie. Its presented in a very homemade sense of normalcy that kind of makes it even more unsettling. There are things such as voodoo-like dolls appearing in the film as well. A cemetery, cavern and dungeon featured in the film is the stuff of haunt house dreams down to the grimy details.

If you’re into a more dramatic, mystery-based and stealthy type of horror, The Witches will really deliver. Joan Fontaine and the rest of the cast really sell and uplift the material very well. I’ll go back to it, but if you’ve never seen this movie and are a fan of The Wicker Man (Not the “Not the bees!” one, the Christopher Lee starring one), you should REALLY give this movie a fair shake. That’s really my big selling point here and a film I was constantly reminded of when watching.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: There are no details provided regarding the Scream Factory transfer for Hammer Films’ The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own) in its Blu-ray debut. No matter, this one looks pretty outstanding on the format. Its quite colorful and lifts right off the screen. Retaining a nice layer of grain, you get a clean image with loads of details and textures popping right on through. I think people are going to be both surprised and very happy with how this turned out.

Depth:  Depth of field is pretty strong here as there are some very impressive looking exterior shots that wind up in the film. Spacing and movements are smooth and confident. No motion issues occur.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and consistent. Some detail and texture do get lost in the darker corners of the image, but its nothing bad or distracting. No crushing.

Color Reproduction: Colors pop off the screen and are quite beautiful and well saturated. Even the natural and normal boring colors like browns lift off. There are a lot of greens with plenty of shades and tints to them that look quite well here. Blues, yellows and reds turn out well too.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent throughout the film with surprisingly no flickering issues given the source and age. Facial features like make-up, blemishes, freckles, acne, lip texture, wrinkles, grease and more come through clearly from any reasonable distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own) carries a really nice mono track. Its plenty balanced mix where the score does like to take center stage time to time. It definitely sounds of a film from 1966 but with good clarity and having some deeper undertones that come through on the score at some spots.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with a bit of its analog aging showing through in a more muffled kind of way from time to time.

Extras 

The Witches comes with reversible cover art featuring a poster with the alternate title “The Devil’s Own”.

Audio Commentary

  • With Author/Filmmaker Ted Newson

Hammor Glamour (HD, 44:09) – This documentary was previously featured on the Millennium release of Frankenstein Created Woman. It takes a look through the leading and supporting ladies of Hammer productions, what they had to go through, their legacy and iconography. Includes Vera Davis, Caroline Munro, Martine Beswicke, Jenny Hanley, Valarie Leon, and Madeline Smith as interview participants. Quite a terrific feature to include.

Trailers & TV Spot (HD, 3:33)

Still Gallery (HD, 4:28)

Summary 

Scream Factory’s continued trip down the Hammer line is on a roll so far this year with a least some little bit every month. Their Blu-ray debut of The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own) is another awesome addition. It both looks and sounds outstanding and should have fans plenty happy. The bonus features add a nice commentary to go with a known, but terrific documentary. Hammer Fans will want to scoop it up once the price meets their liking.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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