Arrow Video and MVD Visual are giving horror genre fans a true trio of rarely seen treat with its new American Horror Project series. Volume 1 (limited to only 3000 copies) contains three films from the 1970’s restored as best as possible and packed with loads of must-see bonuses that make this collection well worth the cost. Each of the films here is such a revelation of both great, bizarre and bad elements that I’ll be covering them in separate reviews starting with (in my opinion) is the best of the trio.
Matt Cimber‘s 1976 film The Witch Who Came From the Sea is both amazing and disturbing on a few levels. A startling performance by Millie Perkins (best known to classic film fans for The Diary of Anne Frank) and lovely cinematography by Dean Cundey make this one of those films that creeps up under your skin and stays there for a while. Molly (Perkins) watches her young nephews during the day, filling their heads with tales of their seaman grandfather’s heroic deeds and pumping them up with admiration for sports stars they see on TV. At night she works as a barmaid in a dockside dive, sometimes sleeping with her boisterous boss, Long John (Lonny Chapman). That’s not her biggest secret, however. She was a severely abused child who descended into a quiet madness during her years of torture who’s now a serial killer with specific men as her targets.
Molly’s fixation with TV as an escape from reality into “reality” plays into the script quite well and yes, the incestuous stuff is hard as hell to watch but without it, the movie would be just weird and harder to follow. She thinks people on TV can interact with her (there are scenes where she converses with or has men on TV address her directly) and can’t grasp that actors playing roles aren’t the same people as they are in the real world. This comes into play when the killings start and while the film isn’t particularly gory by today’s standards, The manner in which she goes about her business is pretty intense. Molly’s odd feelings towards her TV victims is contrasted by her frequent and more normal dalliances with Long John. He’s a total horn dog as he’s probably slept with most of his barmaids, but he’s also smart enough to know he can’t keep Molly tied down at all. Molly’s bizarre “fantasy” life and disappearances into murderous madness start to catch up with her when a few detectives start investigating the crimes and discover clothing left at the scene that initially link her initially clueless sister (Vanessa Brown) who soon realizes that Molly’s insanity runs deep and deadly.
The film plays with reality in a few ways, using cartoon blood in an early fantasy sequence and later staging a pair of murders as a drug-fueled dream sequence Molly seems to hallucinate only to discover the next day that two NFL players were indeed sent packing by her hand in a seedy motel. Of course, she refuses to believe she’s killed anyone even as other TV celebrity types come into her sights thanks to her barmaid job. One is a cowboy star who thinks she’ll be an easy lay and the other is the star of a razor commercial who’s in a relationship, but dumps his blonde co-star hottie when Molly expresses some interest in him. As flashbacks to Molly’s childhood reveal the extent of her abuse, it become hard to feel for her oversexed victims because her own pain wraps itself around your brain. Somehow, the film manages to make Molly a truly sympathetic character even when the walls are closing in an she’s got nowhere to turn save for relying on friends and surprisingly, what family she has left.
More a psychological thriller than a true horror film, The Witch Who Came from the Sea benefits greatly from it’s strong cast an rawness of the more controversial content. Much of that is covered in the disc’s special features that include interviews with Cimber, Perkins, and Cundey along with a great commentary track you’ll want to hear on a second viewing. The transfer is solid for the most part other than when a mildly distracting horizontal green line appears on screen for a few moments. Herschel Burke Gilbert‘s haunting score gives the film some of its punch and should have been included as a bonus on the disc. But it’s probably safe to say this is one film that didn’t even get an official soundtrack LP back when it was initially released.
As I haven’t seen the 2014 Subversive DVD release, I can’t compare the extras content to the Arrow disc. But it looks as if (in addition to reversible cover art and a collectible booklet) the newer version enhances the older disc quite nicely if you’re looking to replace it. While not perfect (the plot has a few under-cooked elements and some loose ends aren’t fully tied up by the end although it’s more of a “life is messy” issue more than the script’s fault), for what it brings to the table in terms of slow-burning but essential 1970’s “horror”, The Witch Who Came from the Sea comes very highly recommended.