Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976)

          First things first: Ignore the advertising materials and the title of this film, which is not in any way fantastic or supernatural. Quite to the contrary, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is the dark and sad story of a woman pushed to violence by a lifetime of mental illness and sexual abuse. While writer Robert Thom and director Matt Cimber deliver so many exploitation elements that their movie is more than a little bit sleazy, they also supply a grim character study based on a rational bit of cause-and-effect psychological theorizing. It’s not as if they break new ground, since every movie of this type lives in the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), and it’s not as if they delve so deeply and thoughtfully into the nature of killing and sexual dysfunction that The Witch Who Came from the Sea overcomes its grindhouse nature. Topless shots and gory murder scenes abound. Nonetheless, the movie has more substance than one might expect.
          Set at various spots along the Los Angeles coast, primarily a sketchy neighborhood in Venice Beach, the picture stars lanky Millie Perkins as Molly, a twisted young woman preoccupied with her long-lost father. According to her, he was a bold sea captain and he might someday return. According to Molly’s older sister, however, Daddy was an abusive, drunken louse who did the world a favor by disappearing and presumably dying. When she’s not babysitting her nephews or working in a bar, Molly picks up men. Once she’s alone with them, she engages in S&M while drifting in and out of hallucinations/memories of being molested by her father when she was younger. Molly acts out her repressed rage by killing her lovers. As the body count rises, cops discover clues leading them to Molly.
         The film’s storytelling is highly problematic on two levels. Firstly, Cimber’s B-movie excesses are so distracting as to be unintentionally campy, as when he trains his camera on the bulging crotches of bodybuilders while Molly watches dudes exercise on Venice’s famous Muscle Beach. Secondly, the way that Cimber weaves in and out of hallucinations makes it difficult to track what’s really happening. Putting the audience inside the leading character’s head is one thing, but creating unhelpful narrative confusion is another. Yet every so often, the filmmakers lock into something interestingly weird, like the supporting character of a tattoo artist named “Jack Dracula.” Plus, the murder vignettes and sexual-abuse flashbacks are genuinely unpleasant to watch. In sum, it’s fair to say there’s a real movie hiding under the grotesque surface of The Witch Who Came from the Sea, but that real movie is so mediocre that most viewers won’t find it worth the trouble of working their way past the tacky stuff. 

The Witch Who Came from the Sea: FUNKY

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