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A young woman is driving alongside a lake. She has an accident and the car plunges into the water. Her body is then possessed by the spirit of an 18th-century witch who was killed by local villagers, and is bent on avenging herself on them. Written by
A Formidable Film, Worth Rediscovering Thanks to Dark Sky
An English couple are vacationing in Communist Romania... don't ask me why. After a bad run-in with a local innkeeper appropriately named Groper, they run their car into the lake. The man (Ian Ogilvy) is saved, but pulled up with him is not his wife (Barbara Steele), but a 200-year old witch named Vardella.
Now, the first thing you might be asking is this: why would Dark Sky Films, distributor of some of the finest gems in horror and exploitation, release a film that has been in the public domain for years and not very widely praised? There's a very good answer to that: because Dark Sky, among their many other talents, takes one man's trash and turns it into another man's treasure. They somehow uncovered an original print, and have given us the film in beautiful widescreen with a very nice, crisp picture... and if that isn't enough, they tracked down Ogilvy and Steele for an exclusive audio commentary. (Also, if you're like me, you'll appreciate the subtitles.) Can you beat that?
Seriously, though, the film isn't even bad. The characters are interesting and the story has a smooth flow. Really, it's the characters that sell this film. VonHelsing is an interesting modern incarnation of his namesake. The Romanians have a great comedic value with their communist jokes. After one man is found dead, a policeman turns to another and asks, "Is he talking?" The other says, "No, he's dead." So the first one says, "That's obstruction of justice." And then shortly after we get a chase scene that some critics have frowned on for its silliness, but I wonder if they hadn't been paying attention -- the cops were hilarious throughout the film.
Writer/director Michael Reeves has to be given plenty of credit for this. In his early twenties when he made this (before moving on to his masterpiece, "Witchfinder General"), it's a good tale in the same vein as later Hammer Horror stories. The only real complaint I have is the top billing for Barbara Steele, who only appears in the film for maybe fifteen minutes. I understand her popularity at the time, and she's something of a horror icon, but it's a bit misleading to make her so prominent in the advertising.
Thank you, Dark Sky, for taking what was a film dead in the water and reviving it. Modern horror fans may find it a bit slow and bulky, but anyone who loves the classics will find this appealing with plenty of good scenes and grisly visuals -- eye gouging, impalement... witches beware! A truly enjoyable experience.
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