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A weird and obscure little film from exploitation director Cimber, The Witch
Who Came From The Sea gained a degree of notoriety some years ago when it
appeared on the UK's controversial 'video nasties' list. With its prominent
themes of child abuse and castration that's not surprising, even though in
the event much of the objectionable material is fairly low-key. Mollie
Perkins plays Millie, whose treatment at the hands of her father when young
has left her emotionally scarred, even though she half-idolises his memory.
At the time the film opens she is supporting two children, works in an
"advice centre" (a bar) and is in an off/on relationship with the owner,
Long John (Lonny Chapman). Soon two footballers are castrated and killed,
while Millie enters into a obsessive relationship with McPeak (Stafford
Morgan), a film star appearing in a frequently run shaving commercial on TV.
Cimber's film is focussed on what is presumably Millie's downward spiral of mental collapse, and this is its biggest weakness. Haunted by a series of painful flashbacks (in which it becomes more and more clear exactly what was the nature of her traumatic childhood experience), Millie's inner torment is otherwise rarely articulated to the audience, although Perkins does her best to project some sympathy into the character. These days the two castration scenes, fake blood, cutaways (no pun intended) and all, are far less provoking to an audience than those of child abuse. In a modern production, typically issues would be 'dealt with' from a psychological standpoint. She remains curiously mute however, and we miss the catharsis. "Millie's the captain of her own ship," says Long John, who recognises this distant quality of his employee/lover - one who, even in bed with him, cannot confide her sexual history. But while keeping her own confidence may suggest inner strength, this woman who 'looks liberated' is ultimately as much a mystery as when we first see her.
Without any internal keys to Millie's psychology, apart from her murderous compulsions, the audience is forced to look for answers elsewhere. Fortunately the film is full of enough symbolism, Freudian and otherwise to give ample hints, considerably enriching the narrative and providing its principal interest. 'The witch' in question does not refer to supposed supernatural skills of the heroine. Millie is human and emotionally damaged. Much is suggested when she admires a reproduction hanging on the wall of a lecherous male admirer. Botticelli's well-known Birth of Venus features a female figure standing on a shell, incidentally reminiscent of the mermaid tattooed on her father's chest. (Millie shortly thereafter has a copy done on her belly.) Venus' "father was a god" we learn, and "they cut off his balls, the sea got knocked up, and Venus was the kid." The Botticelli neatly encapsulates the themes of consummation and emasculation running through the film. It's the tension between the two that ultimately wrecks Millie, ruinously torn between admiration of her father and knowledge of what men can do.
Castration of course is an obvious form of unmanning, as demonstrated by Millie's treatment of the footballers, then McPeak (the second instance achieved, remarkably, through the misuse of a safety razor). Her first lover, the aptly named 'Long John', has a beard. He and it remain thankfully intact at the end of the film. In Cimber's film, shaving is associated explicitly both with sex ("Someday I'd love to shave you.") as well as with explicit genital injury. Like a peculiar Delilah to various Samsons, Millie quickly reduces men by her barbering attentions, destroying their vitality, and thence their threat to her. Her fantasises run along the same lines from the very first. The viewer initially sees Millie on the beach, reassuring her children about their grandfather's heroic status, while absent-mindedly staring at bodybuilders working out - in effect going from groyne to groin. We assume that her fixation on their bulging swim shorts is straightforwardly sexual. Only later do we realise that crotches are targets in more ways than one.
All of the performances are adequate, though none are outstanding. In the central role Mollie Perkins, despite the aforementioned drawbacks of her part, gives a reasonable impression of a divided and damaged personality, emotionally numbed by her own demons. During one key scene, the murder of the football players that features drug abuse, bondage then castration, she looks remarkably unfazed by the material - assisted by the nightmarish feel created by Cimber's direction. Perkins had come to this film after appearing in some Monte Hellman films, notably his outstanding existential westerns Ride The Whirlwind and The Shooting (both 1965), and perhaps felt that more such off-the-wall material suited her style. Certainly after this period in her career she was unable to find such striking material again. (Cimber's next film was with Orson Welles in the Pia Zadora turkey Butterfly, 1982)
The Witch Who Came From The Sea has a quiet ending, but one that is nevertheless apt and poetically very effective. Scriptwriter Robert Thom (whose previous two credits were for the classic B-movies Crazy Mama and Death Race 2000, both in the previous year) builds on the seafaring imagery already featured throughout the film to send his heroine on a last voyage of her own. Millie's departure, in the bosom of her family and friends, is far away from the Grand Guignol conclusion common to the genre. It is as if formal justice has no part to play in a sad tale, which revolves almost entirely around the wounding of the psyche, and in line with this, the police investigation during the film is remarkably muted, and un-cynical. Remarkably hard to find these days, presumably because of its downbeat subject matter, this is a film that still holds up well. A stronger supporting cast would have made it into a mini-classic. As it is, it still serves as a reminder of the imagination possible from a low budget film, a novelty from a period rich in bargain basement experiment.
This one's a real weirdie. It's unique, surreal and genuinely disturbing,
and Millie Perkins gives a memorably intense and bizarre performance as
Molly. It goes out of its way to shock the viewer, and largely succeeds.
also features the single most upsetting childhood trauma flashback I've
It's probably too much for most people's tastes, but if you enjoy flawed one-of-a-kind low budget '70s horror, it's worth a look if you can find it. I am a bit dubious about the exploitative way it uses the subject of child abuse device to shock and disturb the viewer, so be warned.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Please do not read this review unless you've seen the film first. I'm
going to address and elaborate on a key aspect of the movie which is of
paramount importance. This stunningly dark, daring, and disturbing
exploitation masterpiece tackles the touchy subject of incest head-on
with genuinely insightful and unsettling results. Former Ann Frank
Millie Perkins gives a strikingly moving and audacious portrayal as
Molly, a deeply troubled seaside town barmaid who's in fierce denial
about the fact that she was molested by her father as a little girl.
Molly projects her repressed rage and vehement disdain for her dad onto
other men whom she castrates after having sex with them. Robert Thom's
superbly acrid, intelligent, and incisive script possesses a complex
Freudian psychology to it, astutely presenting how Molly acts out her
aggression towards her father onto other guys who are revered in our
culture as god-like figures akin to the father (Molly's victims include
two football players and a stuck-up TV commercial actor). It's this
aspect of the film which makes it one of the greatest unsung oddball
psycho pic gems of the 70's. Of course, this movie wouldn't work as
well as it does without Perkins' truly fabulous lead performance. She
makes Molly alternately both sad and scary, sexy and frumpy, vulnerable
and impenetrable, lucid and opaque. She's especially heart-breaking
towards the shattering conclusion.
The supporting performances are likewise outstanding, with noteworthy turns by Lonny Chapman as Molly's sweet, loving and concerned boyfriend, Vanessa Brown as Molly's loyal and worried best friend, Peggy Feury as Molly's pathetic manic depressive layabout sister, Rick Jason as a vain TV actor, the always delightful and vivacious Roberta Collins as a temperamental actress, and Richard Kennedy and George "Buck" Flower as the homicide detectives investigating the murders Molly commits. Flower even served as the film's casting director; that's his daughter Verkina as young Molly in those profoundly upsetting flashback scenes and his good buddy John Goff as Molly's vile pedophile father (Goff and Flower appeared in scores of films together, plus collaborated on the script for the immortal schlock slasher stinker "Drive-In Massacre"). Exquisitely well photographed by Dean Cundey and smartly directed in effectively no-frills fashion by the great Matt Cimber, further graced by a hauntingly melancholy tone and punctuated with shocking moments of raw violence and hideous abuse, this remarkable gut-kicker packs one hell of a strong and lingering wallop. Truly essential viewing for 70's grind-house film fans.
This movie can come from no decade but. There is very little action and
some weird trippy sequences in it. I will not rehash the plot but I
will say that this movie is worth seeing. If you are tired of the bland
boring thriller/chiller pieces that are being made today, this is
definitely worth renting. Subversive Video has released a cleaned up
version on DVD so it is more readily available than in the past. Of
note in the film is Millie Perkins, of Diary of Anne Frank fame. She
plays the clichéd role of psycho on the verge but she does it with such
muted tones and acting that makes you forget how many times the role of
Molly has been rehashed in the horror genre.
Also, I would say a word on the production value. While other reviews have noted its shodiness. Let me just remind you this movie was made in 1976. As anyone who has seen 70's movies are aware, a lot of them look like they were made for nothing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This isn't an easy movie to watch or to get through. In fact, I've seen
it twice, and the second time I literally had to force myself to watch
it. That doesn't take away from the excellent nature of this very
underrated, if unnoticed, film.
The story revolves around Molly, a woman with an extremely painful past. She covers it up with stories of her father being a sailor, lost at sea. Her sister knows better, but still allows Molly to have these fantasies, and tell her nephews the same stories. While at the beach with them one day,Molly sees some bodybuilders working out and imagines them dying gruesome deaths. Later, she stops by a tattoo shop but is scared away by the owner.
A lot of Molly's actions are childlike, and a lot of them are filmed in a dream quality. It's hard for the viewer to know what's real and what isn't. A scene in which she emasculates two football players is hardly graphic, but hits just the way it should. And the most disturbing thing about it is the carefree quality of Molly, who remarks, "This is going to take too long."
However, she seems genuinely surprised the next day when the news declares them dead. She's also late to her bar tending job where her boyfriend Long John also works. Later on, she goes to a party and tries to murder the man throwing it, but in the process meets a man from a TV commercial and becomes intimate with him. This results in the movie's only moment of levity, when his now former love interest shoots out his tires and he refuses to press charges, which leads to an amusing back and forth with the police.
Molly gets a tattoo of a mermaid coming up from the sea on her stomach, and later, we find out exactly why she chose this tattoo. And it's disturbing.
But more disturbing is when we find out exactly what her father did to her to make her this messed up. It's not graphic, thank goodness, but it's enough, and it will effectively make your stomach churn, while also placing you squarely on Molly's side, despite her horribly misplaced rage. The men she kills don't deserve it, but then again, neither does Molly.
This movie is as intense and well thought out/acted as the Video Nasties get. While "Evil Dead" may be the best of the collection, this one really puts heart and effort in. That doesn't make it a fun ride, but it does make it excellent cinema. And that's all you want out of a movie. This film, in all its obscurity, definitely deserves an audience. One with an open mind, preferably. ____________________
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Millie Perkins is a disturbed young woman plagued by disturbing visions.She hates men and castrates them because she was the victim of incest during her childhood."The Witch Who Came from the Sea" is a strange and moody exploitation flick with dream-like atmosphere and strong symbolism.Millie castrates two popular football players in fantastically oneiric sequence of sexual violence.The film is slow-moving and deeply unpleasant character study of woman's torment.The central performance of Millie Perkins is fantastic as is the supporting cast.If you are into beautiful and highly subversive 70's US horror you can't miss this oddity.8 mermaids out of 10.
This may be a spurious comparison, but this reminded me of the
bigger-budgeted movie "The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea"
which was released about the same time. Sure the latter is a serious
drama while this is a low-budget (Italian?)exploitation movie, but they
both share an eerily haunting seaside location and have a truly
shocking ending. I can't say I enjoyed this movie in the sense that I
would like to see it again anytime soon (most men will find it pretty,
uh, painful), but I can't help respecting it. It's not your usual
exploitation film. It is somewhat similar to the rape-revenge films
that were big in the 70's (the epitome of which was the truly execrable
"I Spit on Your Grave"). Unlike that movie and its ilk, however, this
film does not relish in the rape and humiliation of its barmaid female
protagonist (played by Millie Perkins). And her character is portrayed
as a disturbed but always believable human being as opposed to a
murdering/castrating automaton. And rather than portraying all men as
jerks or potential rapists, it has a likable male character in her
older bartender boyfriend, "Long John".
It takes a brave film to contain the extreme, potentially off-putting elements this one does, but also not take the easy, well-trodden exploitation route (one of the most ridiculous criticisms leveled at this film, for instance, is that there is not literally a witch in it). This movie certainly does wallow in grubby exploitation scenes, but at times it transcends all that and becomes something more haunting and lyrical that will stay with you long after you watch it.
Like many films on the BBFC's "Video Nasty" list back in the eighties;
The Witch Who Came from the Sea baffles the viewer because there really
isn't anything in the film that should have lead to its banning. Sure,
there's a little bit of blood and the suggestive child abuse scenes are
a bit shocking, but this film is never going to corrupt or deprave.
Anyway, while the shocks are disappointing, and I can understand why
this isn't a widely liked cult classic; I've got to say that I really
enjoyed it...and I should also mention that I'm not really sure why.
The film features the age-old storyline of someone going insane and
turning to murder, but it's surprisingly more relaxed in pace and
content that many other similar movies. This one is also different
because, rather than seeing a man butcher women; we've got a woman
exacting violence against men. Molly is a young lady corrupted by
memories of her seafaring father. She turns to drink, and soon becomes
a killer after spending the night with two footballers. We then follow
her on her dissent into alcoholism and insanity.
The film has that classic, gritty low budget look about it, which bodes well with the atmosphere presented. One of the main reasons why I liked this film is because it seems that writer Robert Thom and director Matt Cimber actually care about the plot and characters, and this is shown by the fact that a lot of the movie is spent building up the situation around the lead character. The movie remains interesting throughout because certain facts about the lead's past are fed to the audience bit by bit, and these help us to see why the character acts as she does. The lead role is taken by Millie Perkins, who actually does a really good job with it. It's easy to believe that she is the character we are seeing on screen, and her performance is above the average for this sort of film. The scenes of gore aren't all that shocking, and only the one that sees a man butchered with his razor is likely to provoke any kind of reaction from the audience. The castration sequences and the child abuse are what this film became notorious for, but I don't know why as they both are put forward in a very casual manner. Overall, however, I feel that The Witch Who Came from the Sea has been unfairly treated and should be remembered with a bit more respect.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Molly (Millie Perkins) is a girl who is haunted by a childhood of
sexual abuse at the hands of her now dead father. These images are
however, repressed by her, and she constructs a fantasy world where he
did in fact die at sea - as he was an explorer of the sea. This we
later find out is drawn from the euphemistic term Molly's father used
to describe the abuse: "Molly, lets get lost at sea".
This fantasy that Molly creates is also perpetuated in sequences that almost appear as if they are happening only in her broken mind. After seeing a couple of professional footballers on the TV (she describes them - and other men - as beautiful creatures to her two nephews), she seems to drift into a day-dream in which she ties the two up to a bed, in a pre-empted plan for sexual endeavour, but she proceeds to cut the penis off of one with a razor blade. As we later discover, these two footballers actually died. Whilst we are certain as an audience that Molly surely did this act, we seem to have no hard evidence of this. Is Molly simply imagining this?
The film is punctuated with short, and increasingly graphic depictions of Molly's rape as a child by her father. These haunting sequences are exacerbated by the increasing volume and amount of perpetual seagull noises filtered through an echo effect. As these moments become more frequent, we find out that Molly's father died of a heart attack during an attack on her. So in Molly's own mind, as her father died during this act - an act he has a euphemistic phrase for - did indeed die at sea.
Molly floats somnambulistically through the majority of this film. She seems almost not to be aware of the events that she is involved in. We seem to follow this path too. But we are also aware of her increasing breakdown. She becomes more erratic and confused about the people around her. She seems obsessed with television, and its ability to display the most beautiful people.
This is no masterpiece, not by a long shot. But it is an interesting piece of cinema. Director Matt Cimber (who has made no other work of significance) unfolds the rapid mental breakdown with a little bit of style. The production values aren't the best, but they are suitable for the content. I did enjoy its mix of seeming supernatural and grindhouse- style elements. It almost plays like a lost and degraded artifact of horror/art-house cinema.
This film bizarrely made it onto the UK's video nasties list (or at least the DPP list), where I can only assume was clustered with the more horrific films (such as 1972's Last House on the Left, 1977's I Spit on Your Grave) due to it's quite intense, but never graphic depictions of male castration.
There have been many posts about what this film is about, so I'm going
to concentrate on the controversy surrounding the cover art. So many
complain that it's misleading art, but it has everything to do with the
film and its story, it's just not a LITERAL depiction.Those that keep
damning the cover art for this film don't seem to know what's really
behind it. It's not a borrowed painting; you can clearly see it's
Millie Perkins' face, and the decapitated head she is holding is in the
image of her father. Granted, this was not the original artwork for the
film, it was used much later and it helped gain attention and viewers.
However, it at least does have enough symbolism to still be associated
with the story. What the cover art does is capture the essence of the
film. People should realize the importance of this, art is not always
In Arrow Video's 2016 set American HORROR PROJECT Vol. 1 which includes the full 88-minute cut of The Witch Who Came From the Sea, there is a book that explains a lot about the actions and thoughts of the character Molly which relates a LOT to the cover art that so many bitch about not having anything to do with the film (but it DOES!).
In one scene Molly and a man are looking at the Botticelli painting The Birth Of Venus. Venus was born in the sea and her father was a god. He was castrated, and his sperm was dropped into the ocean. "The sea was knocked up, Venus was the kid," he said. The Arrow booklet's article states "As her eyes dart over the image you can see her brain forming the same analogies we are." Molly loved her father despite his incestuous actions and she felt he was like a god, since he was a sea captain. She also then seeks out "perfect" looking men and the castrations and killings begin.
The painting on box cover is a representation of all of this -- what kind of cover did people really want? A viewer's job is to read (like the back of the box) and educate yourself before just snatching up a video and expecting a literal interpretation of what you see on the front of a DVD / Blu-ray / VHS box. Especially these days where info can be retrieved about anything on your phone, it's easy to find out for sure what you're getting into.
I love this film, there's so much more going on psychologically than what you see on the surface (another problem people are experiencing with the film The Witch, not researching a little before heading into something that they weren't really going to be into in the first place). The Witch Who Came From The Sea is much smarter than many people realize, and I for one love the cover art.
Bravo to Arrow Video for restoring it to the full cut (the Subversive and Cult Epoch DVD releases were just the R-rated 83- minute cut). The commentary in this newer release has been ported over from the DVD, but Arrow edited the commentary to fit the longer running time. I'm so happy they put so much care and respect into films like this!
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