Posts Tagged Film

The Crucible – Review

[Written by Witch Awareness Month team member, Carole Lanham]

The Devil is precise; the marks of his presence are definite as stone…

~Arthur Miller The Crucible

I have a real soft spot for this story, having played doomed old Rebecca Nurse in a stage performance a couple of years ago.  It’s an intense show when done live on stage. It adds a certain weight of responsibility to the telling when you realize that the people whose lives we glimpse in both the play and the film are not simply characters, but real souls who were forever marked by this nightmare. None of the names have been changed. The trial, the hangings, these are difficult to imagine when you live in a world where young girls get gobs of candy for dressing up as witches once a year, but The Crucible really happened.

JohnProctor

The real John Proctor

In my opinion, there is a certain extra bit of excitement that comes with any live production, but director Nicolas Hytner has taken a much-loved theatrical script and created a biting film that raises goose pimples and stirs up an added level of complexity. By giving life to scenes that happen off stage in the play, the film hits with a powerful punch.

The theatrical version begins after the girls have been discovered dancing at night, thus, an intriguing and critical piece of this grim puzzle is left to the imagination. It works in the play but Hytner begins his film by rubbing your face in a scene that is as shocking as it is illuminating.  The girls bear their breasts as they dance around a boiling pot and Abigail Williams (Winona Ryder) drinks animal blood. Smeared lips and fevered words expose the depth of these girls’ desperation in this repressed society to conjure the forbidden.  When Abigail’s uncle, the Reverend Parris (Bruce Davison) spies them in the woods, it sets off an insidious chain reaction. Accusations fly and hysteria ensues.  Denial becomes ”proof” of guilt. A mad paranoia overtakes the village.

Paranoia

Abigail’s secret love affair with an older man, John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis) is brought to light.  Proctor is a farmer whose household once employed Abigail as a servant. His prim wife, Elizabeth (Joan Allen), has never forgiven him for betraying her. Still smitten with John, Abigail accuses Elizabeth of witchcraft and, despite her lily-white reputation, the woman is taken away and locked up.

Day-Lewis

Allen plays Elizabeth pitch perfect.  Pious and just a shade sanctimonious, she is a cold fish in the face of Ryder’s mesmerizing schoolgirl tantrums and spellbound eye rolling.  Likewise, Day-Lewis is an actor who never disappoints and his layered performance of John Proctor is no exception. Between his fiery confrontations with Ryder and his frustrated, regretful, battle-wearied scenes with Allen, he makes for a sympathetic character, past mistakes not withstanding.

Ryder

As the movie progresses, there is a transfer of power from the town leaders to the hysterical young women who have the ability to point out witches. Those who will not confess are hanged.  The story ends in tragedy when John Proctor must choose between the truth and a lie that has the power to save his life.

Proctor

Playwright Arthur Miller used the witch trials as an allegory for McCarthyism.  In today’s society, one might look for similarities in the way the media inflames, corrupts, and all too often informs the way we think.  In this manner, the story of The Crucible is sadly timeless.

If you haven’t ever seen the film, don’t miss your chance. It’s a piece of thought-provoking work.

[Carole Lanham is the author of The Whisper Jar, The Reading Lessons, and Cleopatra’s Needle.  Please visit her at carolelanham.com
 and https://www.facebook.com/carole.lanham?ref=tn_tnmn]

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Film viewing #7: The Crucible

Our seventh (and final) film for Witch Awareness Month, is the adaptation of the classic Arthur Miller play of the same name.

Enjoy and look out for the review tomorrow!

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The Season of the Witch – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month member, Mark S. Deniz]

[Beware of spoilers here]

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

I am probably going to say this a few times over the course of the review but those who know the man, and especially those who have seen the film will allow me that…

There is an argument that this film should not have been featured in the film list for Witch Awareness Month and I understand this. Hopefully you have taken note of the spoiler warning and are more than prepared for anything I may say from here on in.

The film begins in the dark times of the witch trials in Europe before moving on to the Crusades (yes, I wondered about that myself too), where we are introduced to our two ‘heroes’, Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman. Our protagonists are Crusaders with a sense of morals (I know, I know), cutting a swathe through the Middle East, before realising that women and children maybe don’t need to be sliced and diced for the glory of a benevolent god.

“Sorry, love, my spear seemed to be in your way”

Nicholas Cage as a crusader is a little hard to go for, the suspension of disbelief element is a big ask and I wonder who was responsible for casting this role. There is a sense of the all-American action hero here, which bodes ill for the film but is not too surprising in truth.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

Ron.

In truth, Ron is very similar to Cage in these early stages, as they joke who is getting the rounds in, based on how many infidels they slay in a battle (wait a minute, didn’t the muslims call the christians the infidels? Pay it no mind).

The action sequences are a little unnecessary and start a worry that is not abated for some time, especially knowing that the film is a mere 94 minutes long. The fight scenes are fun, plenty of jokes about killing muslims before Cage puts his spear through a defenceless woman and the brown stuff really hits the fan, he nearly taking the head off the leader of the armies, before Perlman drags him off to a life as a deserter.

It’s here that the film starts to move into its subject as Cage and Perlman are caught by soldiers in a European village and are pretty much forced to help transport a witch to a monastry, so that the monks can no doubt drown her to see if she’s innocent or not and burn her if she floats…

Arrgh, a witch!

Transporting a witch is pretty dangerous business you know: spells, suggestions, tricks of the light and wolves make for a treacherous journey for our two ex-crusaders and their merry little band of misfits and, complete with a shaky bridge scene (you haven’t seen one of those for a while, have you) there is much that befalls them.

As they reach the monastry, they are aware that something is afoot in the state of Denmark and that the witch is even more tricksy than they first thought.

If I go on, I pretty much destroy any reason you may have for watching the film and so I’ll change direction a little.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

I mean he pretty much lights up any film, no matter the quality. There’s probably even a film he couldn’t save but I haven’t seen it yet and so I stick with my opinion. Even with the U.S. drawl, and the unnecessary quips, he holds a scene and has fantastic, expressive features.

Cage is way out of his comfort zone. An actor I loved in films, such as: Raising Arizona and Wild at Heart, is not at all at home as a thoughtful, honourable ex-crusader and it has an effect on the film itself, as the viewer constantly tries to marry the characters to the story.

It’s not the train wreck I expected it to be, however, and I was pleasantly surprised by certain things in it, especially as I didn’t know that a certain actor was featured.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman.

The effects are OK, it’s an enjoyable romp and it features a witch…sort of. It plays out quite a bit better than I thought and considering I was not particularly positive about reviewing it before I watched it can be seen as a positive result.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so sure I would recommend it, as there are far better films, especially about witches, that you can watch but it’s definitely not one of the worse I’ve seen either.

“What do you mean, this isn’t Kansas?”

The choice is yours.

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Film viewing #6: The Season of the Witch

Our sixth film for Witch Awareness Month, is the potential train wreck that is The Season of the Witch.

Thank the lords for Ron Perlman!

Enjoy and look out for the review tomorrow!

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Burn Witch Burn – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month contributor, Ruth Merriam]

[Beware of spoilers here]

How is it that I’ve watched Burn, Witch, Burn  (ake Night of the Eagle – 1962) four times and never before bothered to read the book on which it was based? Conjure Wife, by Fritz Leiber, is not only a masterpiece of supernatural writing, it’s written by one of the most influential authors of the last century. The story first appeared in the April 1943 volume of the magazine Unknown Worlds, was expanded and included in an anthology, then finally published as a stand-alone novel in 1953.

The book and film diverge somewhat from each other, as is often the case. The book takes place in southern New England in the States, while the film is set in the bucolic English countryside. The surnames of the main characters are different in the two mediums. No doubt for the sake of necessity, many other details were changed as well.

Watch the film. Read the book. Even doing so back-to-back will not lessen the impact of either. I couldn’t put the book down.

So what’s this all about, eh? I’ll focus on the film.

They couldn’t help it, I suppose. They just had to start the film off with about 2 minutes of schlocky black screen with a monologue.

“ . . . I am now about to dispel all evil spirits that may radiate from the screen during this performance . . .

And now with a free mind and a protected soul, we ask you to enjoy Burn, Witch, Burn.”

Thankfully, once the monologue is over there isn’t a wasted frame in the film. The acting and cinematography are first rate, the dialogue is crisp and believable, and the interactions of the characters is so well done that watching it borders on voyeurism.

We have Norman Taylor, professor of Sociology and critical thinking, who teaches at Hempnell Medical College – a bastion of learning (and spoiled rich kid students) and gothic architecture (the eagle factors in later, but that would be a spoiler)

Statue

Professor Taylor in his element:

Taylor

In his lecture, he emphasizes that, “I do not believe. I do not believe. So, to recap, four words necessary to destroy the forces of:

1) The Supernatural

2) Witchcraft

3) Superstition

4) Psychic etc. etc etc.”

While summing up, he tells his students, “Aladdin rubbed a lamp, and a genie appeared. Today, we can push a button and the whole of mankind is obliterated.”

He’s a rational man, a thinking man, a man on the fast track to the position of head of his department. A handsome man (played by Peter Wyngarde) with a seemingly charmed life.

But oh . . . those academic jealousies! This is a tale of witchcraft as well as a scathing look at departmental politics.

Norman is married to Tansy (played by Janet Blair), a woman who splits her time between their house near the college and a seaside cottage. Interesting choice of names as the herb Tansy has historically magical properties (it was allegedly given to the Greek mortal-turned-demigod Ganymede to bestow immortality upon him) as well as medicinal properties.

Their home is filled with items that, to the trained eye, are significant for their magical and folkloric properties. There’s a bell hanging hidden at the front door to ward off evil.

Bell

There are statues and significant art ranging from African witchdoctor masks to a statue of Kwan Yin. There’s a broom hanging above an archway. Norman seems utterly oblivious to this. Repeated viewings of the film reveal totems, gris-gris, and charms absolutely everywhere!

Tansy longs to return to Jamaica, where they spent some time while Norman did research. Norman reminds her of the downside, like malaria, but she’s nostalgic. Norman gently scoffs at her fascination with a “warlock” named Carubius with whom she spent time while in Jamaica. Did I mention that she’s also beautiful?

Tansy

Tansy doesn’t care for the bickering and backbiting that goes along with being in academia, but keeps up with her duties as a professor’s wife by hosting a weekly bridge game for other members of the faculty.

Faculty

Snark? They’ve got it. Double entendres? In spades . . . so to speak.

After the bridge game is over, Tansy seems distressed and while Norman sits and reads, she goes through their living room obviously searching for something. She opens drawers, looks under tables, slides her hands along the underside of shelves, but when Norman questions what she’s doing she brushes it off with a weak explanation about a shopping list. Just before they retire for the night, Norman is looking for something in a dresser drawer and needs to remove a drawer that contains Tansy’s things. He finds this:

Spider

Tansy is nervous and upset when she sees that the drawer has been taken out. Norman asks her about the jar, which she asserts is simply a memento from their time in Jamaica and a gift from Carubius. Norman is dismissive of her attachment to it.

After they’ve gone to bed for the night, she gets up while Norman sleeps and returns to the living room to resume her search and finds what she’s been looking for:

Fetish

It’s a fetish that’s been knotted into a lampshade. Tansy takes it apart and burns it, but her sense of disquiet increases.

The next day, while Norman is getting out a jacket to give to a dry cleaner, he finds a sachet that’s been pinned to the underside of the lapel. This prompts him to go back to their bedroom where he rifles through Tansy’s dresser drawers. He finds more than he bargained for.

Potion

When Tansy returns from running errands, she notices that the bell is missing from over the front door. Upon entering the house, she finds a pile of her magical items on the living room table and an argument ensues. She knows that Norman’s success has been heavily influenced by her and that her protective magic has been keeping them both safe in a hostile environment. Norman all but accuses her of being insane. She insists that her magic has been responsible for his rapid career advancement and in keeping him from danger from jealous colleagues.

“What do you want to believe?
“I want some kind of an explanation!”

“Well, isn’t it obvious? I’m a witch.”

Tansy recounts an experience they had in Jamaica in which Carubius saved the life of a young girl by taking the offered life of her grandmother in the girl’s place. Norman had fallen ill, and Tansy, in desperation, thought of Carubius’s magic. Although she didn’t resort to Carubius’s help because Norman recovered on his own, that was the event that started her down the path of witchcraft.

Norman demands that she destroy all her charms and talismans and come to her senses. Tansy says, “I tell you, Norman, I will not be responsible for what happens to us if you make me give up my protections!” While he’s burning everything, he asks if there’s anything that she didn’t give to him. She pulls out a locket that she’s wearing and gives it to him. Behind his photo are some dried herbs and while he’s dumping them into the flames, his photo goes in as well. Tansy panics and begs him to retrieve the photo, but it’s too late.

And that is when the stuff hits the fan.

The story builds from here with everything from a female student accusing Norman of seducing her to a student with failing grades trying to kill him to Norman nearly being run down by a delivery truck. The faculty politics becomes a nest of vipers. Something tries to break into Norman and Tansy’s home, triggered by sounds coming over the phone. Terrible things escalate rapidly and Tansy becomes desperate to save the man whom she adores.

But . . . Tansy is not the only witch in this tale.

As the tension in the film increases, Norman tries to track down Tansy who has left him a message telling him that she’s going to die in his place. He finds that she’s been at their seaside cottage and discovers stacks of books on witchcraft and black magic. Fighting against reason, but desperate to save her, Norman goes so far as to attempt a spell he finds in one of her books.

Spell

He’s too late, though, and the Tansy who comes back to him isn’t quite the Tansy he knows. The film shifts focus from narrative to her POV and back again at this point, creating a sense of disorientation that’s very effective. Shortly after she comes back to him, they return to their home and things get even worse.

Indeed, Tansy is not the only witch in town.

Witch

I think this is a good place to stop before I give it all away.

Burn, Witch, Burn is currently available on streaming Netflix for those who have access. It’s available on DVD and can be purchased. I cannot recommend this film, and its source book, highly enough. As I wrote earlier, I’ve watched the film four times. I’m certain that I’ll watch it many, many more times and will likely start writing down a list of all the witchcraft-related objects scattered around their house.

Are you wondering why I’m so interested in all those items? It’s simple. Tansy and Norman’s house reminds me a great deal of my own, and of the homes of many of my friends.

Cross

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Simon, King of the Witches – Review

[written by Witch Awareness Month contributor, Mikko Sovijärvi]

Simon, King of the Witches

Directed by: Bruce Kessler

Starring: Andrew Prine, Brenda Scott, George Paulsin, Norman Burton, Gerald York, Ultra Violet

(1971/USA)

The occult explosion that infiltrated horror films by the tail end of the 60’s left a lot to wonder. More often than not, badly put together spectacles of unintentional hilarity mixing what sixtyish producers mistook for hippie sensibility with off-the-wall Satanic rituals and at least one bearded, wild-eyed Charlie Manson lookalike to use for the poster. Then Simon, King of the Witches. Arguably the most unique American genre films of the 70’s, and one of the most often ignored. Usually dismissed as a Z-film by people who don’t quite get it, or dismissed for not being one by people looking for the immediate hilarity of Manos: The Hands of Fate, Simon is a different beast than most of anything. For starters, it’s not really a horror movie even if it was sold as one. It’s a story of a real world warlock with a very casual, working man’s approach to his magick trying to make his way up in the world. As expected, things don’t go nowhere near as planned. A one word description of Simon would probably be “satire”. A satire of what is another matter. Having seen the film a good ten times or more, I am still never quite sure. Possibly of other films dealing with the same subject matter. Perhaps of American counterculture in the early 70’s. Quite probably of something.

Simon is a Andrew Prine Show from start to finish. All the other actors are there, present and performing from mediocre level to quite good, but exist merely as props for Prine, who defines a career. He was and is an actor who never really put out a bad performance, from no-budget horror films like The Centerfold Girls to proper Hollywood fare like Chisum, but here Andrew Prine doesn’t really perform a role. He becomes. Simon is. Simon Sinestrari is a warlock living in a storm drain wishing to attain godhood through magick, weaving his spells in a world of decadent parties, having discussions with trees, and attending nude goat worship rituals. Through all of this, Prine remains resolutely convincing in a part that would baffle most actors and viewers alike. In the shadow of Prine, George Paulsin at least puts up a struggle to be noticed as Simon’s happy-go-lucky sidekick, Turk. Whether or not Paulsin’s boyishly grinning performance is good in any traditional sense of the word is up for debate, but amusing it most definitely is.

It wouldn’t serve any purpose to put down a critical analysis of Simon, for it is a film that defies basic notions of critique as much as categorization. For better or worse, it just is, and to be taken as such with love or hate, but probably not with indifference. Simon is best defined by a scene about halfway through the film. The titular warlock and his little helper crash a somewhat Wiccan ceremony, where Ultra Violet of Andy Warhol fame leads a coven of sorts to take off their clothes in front of a live goat. Simon observes the obviously hokey rituals with a look of wry bemusement, knowing his magick to be the real deal. He then proceeds to ridicule the faux witchiness with a grandiose monologue, and is promptly chased out by the irate worshippers alongside with trusty Turk, who has been getting it on with a nude girl on an altar in an adjacent room. If this sounds appealing to you, Simon might appeal to you. If it doesn’t, Simon won’t. As simple as that.

Bruce Kessler, predominantly a TV director, masters the ceremonies with a slick, professional touch if not particular flair. Simon looks pro on a low budget. It’s not all that visually inventive short of a few scenes with psychedelic optical effects that look very 70’s by now, but the no-nonsense style rather fits the workmanlike attitude of Simon the magician. Off-the-wall visual stylings and wandering narratives of a Jean Rollin film wouldn’t really work here, for Simon has a clear, linear plot and structure, no matter how bizarre it may be.

All I touch, I corrupt, quoth Simon Sinestrari. Fittingly enough, that’s more or less what the producers and distributors did with the marketing of a film they had no idea how and to whom to sell it to. Enter tag lines like “He curses the establishment!”, “The evil spirit must choose evil!”, and promises of black masses and ceremonial sex in the poster artwork. It failed. Simon tanked at the box office and wandered off into the netherworld of very marginal cult status, where it pretty much still resides.

In all honesty, had Simon, King of the Witches been put out under its intended title of plain Simon and advertised as something other than a sex-and-Satan-fueled orgy of occult horror with the added Mansonsploitation elements of the time, it wouldn’t probably have been much more of a critical and commercial success than it was. Simply put, Simon is far too odd a film for that. A combination of now-dated countercultural vibe of the early 70’s, exploitative elements, serious drama, social satire, intentional and unintentional comedy and a script soaked in the esoteric and completely out of step with the normal world, Simon is a movie with no target audience. There’s always something to mess up the suspension of disbelief of the casual viewer. Too much of something or too little of something else.

A special edition DVD that Dark Sky Films put out in 2008 generated some latter day interest and favorable reviews, but Simon, King of the Witches remains a minor cult film, worlds away from any mainstream acceptance. There are probably more fans of the band Mars Volta who own their t-shirt that used the old theatrical poster to Simon for illustration than people who have both seen the film and liked it. Occult is by definition hidden, and all of this only adds to the lure of Simon. The select and elect who have viewed Simon and understood its occasionally misintentional intent as a work of genius adapting the Kenneth Anger maxim of film as a magic ritual to create something well and truly magical, are the lucky ones. The rest of the world have no idea that one of the brightest stars in the sky is one they have never laid their eyes upon, or saw it but understood not.

 

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Film viewing #3: Simon, King of the Witches

What an absolute treat we have in store for you this evening.

Or do we…

Enjoy and look out for the review tomorrow!

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