Halloween Countdown: The Witches / The Devil’s Own (1966)

Between The City of the Dead and The Wicker Man, Hammer Studios brought a teacher to a small village hiding a sinister secret….

Title: The Witches / The Devil’s Own

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Cyril Frankel
Writers: Nigel Kneale, from the novel by Norah Lofts (Writing as Peter Curtis).
The novel is variously known as The Witches, The Little Wax Doll, and Catch as Catch Can.

Joan Fontaine as Gwen Mayfield
Kay Walsh as Stephanie Bax
Alec McCowen as Alan Bax
Ann Bell as Sally Benson
Ingrid Boulting as Linda Rigg
John Collin as Dowsett
Michele Dotrice as Valerie Creek
Gwen Ffrangcon Davies as Granny Rigg
Duncan Lamont as Bob Curd
Leonard Rossiter as Dr. Wallis
Martin Stephens as Ronnie Dowsett
Carmel McSharry as Mrs. Dowsett
Viola Keats as Mrs. Curd
Shelagh Fraser as Mrs. Creek


After surviving a “witchdoctor-led” rebellion in the African village where she teachers, a British woman takes a post in a small English village, where nothing like that could possibly happen.

If you read that last line seriously, contact me about exciting opportunities related to a bank in Nigeria.

High Points:

The idea of ordinary folk as secret, deadly cultists remains a powerful one, and the gradual realization of the truth behind the village initially works fairly well.

Low Points:

Unfortunately, the cult and their rituals reach levels of cheesiness that the Monks of Bellelay would have envied. The costumes and trappings would have not been out of place in a third-season Star Trek TOS ep, while the rituals themselves recall late 60s experimental theatre or early 70s group therapy.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 The movie adapts a novel with a premise used once before by Hammer, and already familiar to readers of horror.

Effects: 3/6 The matte paintings used in the opening scene look so artificial that they’re almost an artistic statement. They’re the sort of the thing that would have passed twenty years earlier and in black and white.

Story: 4/6 The film’s plot features some unexpected and intriguing twists, though at times these may challenge the viewer’s willingness to suspend disbelief.

Acting: 5/6 The performances are stagey and stylized, but good if viewed in that context. Joan Fontaine does a credible job in her final movie role. For the next thirty years, the esteemed actress would appear on stage and television only.

Production: 4/6

Emotional Response: 4/6 I know we need to view the past cautiously, understanding that the values and perceptions we encounter belong to another culture. The African natives in the opening sequence get presented as fearful and superstitious half-children (which technically makes them right, in the context of this film) or as terrifying savages. The scene will feel especially uncomfortable to many viewers who realize we’re watching a movie made in 1966.

Overall: 4/6 The film’s greatest significance may be how entirely it resembles The Wicker Man, softcore version. Hammer Studios had taken several steps closer to their most-famous (and infamous) production.

In total, The Witches / The Devil’s Own receives 26/42.

Oct. 7: XX (2017) (JD)
Oct.14: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) (W. Blaine)
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) (JD)
Oct.21: Hellsing Ultimate (2006-2012) (Alex)
Oct.28: Hammer Horror Double-feature:
City of the Dead(1960) and The Devil’s Own (1966) (JD)
Oct. 31: Get Out (2017) (Brian)