The Witches (England 1966)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: The Devil's Own (U.S. Title)
Review Date: 1/14/02
Cast: Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh, Ingrid Brett

Easily the best Hammer film I've seen to date, this is the story of Gwen Mayfield (delightful Joan Fontaine), an English school teacher who has been desperately trying to get back on her feet after suffering a nervous breakdown in the jungles of Africa. She finally gets hired as head mistress of a private school in a quaint rural village, and her new life is really looking up. Until strange things start happening, and curiosity gets her into trouble... Someone in town is practicing witchcraft, and the memories of Africa torment Miss Mayfield once again. She teams up with the town's leading lady (wonderful Kay Walsh) and the two of them delve deeper into the mystery of the witches. If only Miss Mayfield knew what was in store for her...

A very finely crafted film that only falters towards the end, during an overly drawn out Pagan ritual. Joan Fontaine is absolutely wonderful as the smart and sexy school teacher. Yes, intelligence can be very sexy - it's all in the presentation. She's definitely a high caliber actress and brings a certain amount of dignity and credibility to the film. Kay Walsh is also wonderful, and her brash no-nonsense personality perfectly complements Fontaine's more quiet and reserved approach. They make a great pair. And then there's the lovely Ingrid Brett, who represents the sexual allure of youth and innocence. She's quite wonderful to watch. The story is well written and unfolds at a steady pace, keeping the viewer's attention throughout. While it doesn't offer many surprises and some of the visual effects are laughably bad, I found the film consistently interesting and highly enjoyable.