Tuesday, 15 June 2021


A Witch In Time

UK 1978
Directed by Norman J. Warren
Indicator Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Slight spoilers.

Terror is the third of the Norman J. Warren directed films in the recent five film Indicator boxed set and, so far, I’d have to say it’s my least favourite of the batch although, it has a lot of people who seem to turn up in lots of stuff, whose faces you just seem to know, in it. Like a who’s who of obscure British character actors. Among the more famous of these, though, are two ex-Doctor Who companions - William Russell, who only lasts for the opening sequence... and Michael Craze (also from Satan’s Slave, reviewed here), who doesn’t last that much longer and just seems to leave the film for no apparent reason, due to having an epileptic attack on set and being ordered not to continue by his doctor at the time, from what I can gather.

Another couple of the more famous names in the cast are Glynis Barber (who you might remember from starring roles in the hit TV shows Blake’s Seven, Jane and Dempsey & Makepeace) and the late, great Peter Mayhew, Chewbacca himself, in one stand out scene where you assume he’s playing a menacing killer but, instead, turns out to be the local mechanic... if he turned out to be the plumber then I guess it would have been a porn movie. One last person who deserves a mention in a brief, blink and you’ll miss it section of a party scene is the absolutely brilliant Argento biographer, critic and FrightFest programmer Alan Jones, back when he was a lot younger and had some hair on his top side.

Now, the film was made, I suspect, to cash in on the burgeoning, gory American slasher films which were so popular at the time although, to his credit, I think the director’s influences lay elsewhere on this one. Now, the US slasher movie is a genre I mostly hate. There are a few good films which could be pigeonholed into that genre but not that many and, frankly, I don’t understand why people think those kinds of films are actually horror movies. I mean, how does that even make sense. I much prefer the more beautifully crafted Italian giallo films and also, to a certain degree, the Italian horror films and, though this film is probably an attempt to cash in on that US trend, I think it’s with the Italians that Norman J. Warren’s influences must lay... as the debt to them in this is quite overt in this one.

The opening sequence shows a pursued witch who is ‘man-trapped’ and burned at the stake while issuing a curse to the various generations of the family who put her to death. So straight away we have something strongly reminiscent of Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (reviewed here) and the Italian connection continues into the credits, which is vaguely like some of those old giallo/spaghetti horrors that used slow motion frames of people in posterised colour washes (like some of the old Bava A Bay Of Blood aka Twitch Of The Death Nerve trailers).

Incidentally, the opening set up sequence is a nice bit of double rug pulling when it’s revealed the previous 5 - 10 minutes are part of a modern horror film’s rough cut being shown to the cast and crew at a private screening, in the same house as the setting of that film within a film. Then, in another slight add on to that, it’s revealed that the film’s producer, played by John Nolan and his actress sister played by Carolyn Courage, are actually the last in the family line and the film is based on the true story of their ancestors. So, a nice double whammy and a pure example of the writers getting to have their cake and eat it at the same time. The witch, when she returns towards the end of Terror, is even played by the same actress in the same make-up as the fictional production so, yeah, I like it when the cast and crew of a movie have some fun.

Another Italian connection is a sequence where a small studio starts pulling itself apart and attacking a crew member in the process... which seems ripped straight from the end sequences of Argento’s Suspiria and you can tell that Warren’s pretty much cribbed the lighting scheme from this. The intense greens and reds are almost identical but, I have to say, it manages to look a lot less classier than the template... although there’s a nice moment here when the film crew member gets attacked by the unwinding, spaghetti like tendrils of old film stock swarming over him from the cans (which, apparently, was seven reels of Saturday Night Fever in real life... or is that reel life?).

My only other real take home, apart from a nice stripper with a whippy S&M themed dance, played by Tanya Ferowa, is that the murders in this all seem a bit lacking. They’re gory enough but none of the impalements or weapon penetrations are shown on the body in context with the moments of violence and the fast cuts to make it all fit together along with the gory aftermath seem a little badly done... in direct contrast to the truly amazing stuff on show in Warren’s earlier film, Satan’s Slave. Incidentally, in the fictional film studios there’s a nice double bill poster for Satan’s Slave along with Thriller (aka They Call Her One Eye) which is really quite nice. I didn’t realise they were paired together for some releases... in fact, I hadn’t realised the latter got a cinematic release in the UK at all, to be honest.

One thing of note is the score by Ivor Slaney. It’s both interesting but terrible at the same time. Terrible in that it sounds like it’s being performed on a cheap, domestic Casio mini synthesiser bought from the local Woolworths but, at the same time, it’s quite a striking composition and it sounds like the instrument, if that is what it is, is being worked for all it’s worth. So that’s interesting. I wonder if a recording of this still exists?

Anyway, that’s me done on Terror. It’s not the best film but would be really good programmed as part of a semi-drunken all nighter with friends, I feel. Indicator, as usual, include a load of great extras and a really great transfer/restoration of the film. Another good reason to pick up their Bloody Terror - The Films Of Norman J. Warren box set.

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