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THE WITCHES ($30) is another Hammer horror treat to make its way to DVD thanks to the fine folks at Anchor Bay Entertainment. In THE WITCHES, Joan Fontaine portrays Gwen Mayfield, a woman who suffered a nervous breakdown after an encounter with a tribal witchdoctor at the mission school where she was a teacher. Sometime after her recovery, Gwen accepts the position of headmistress at a small school in the English countryside. As soon as she arrives, Gwen is made to feel very welcome by the school’s proprietor Alan Bax (Alec McCowen) and his sister Stephanie (Kay Walsh). Even the townspeople seem to be receptive to the school’s new headmistress. However, after a short period of time, Gwen notices some odd things about some of the villagers that makes her suspect that some of them may be practicing witchcraft.

As Gwen gets closer to the truth, she finds her past experiences coming back to haunt her. With her own sanity hanging in the balance, Gwen has to find the courage to confront the witches? THE WITCHES has an intelligent screenplay by Nigel Kneale that effectively blends psychological terror with the suggestion of real horror. Joan Fontaine is in good form, giving a solid performance as a woman on the edge of sanity. Kay Walsh proves to be fun as the writer, who knows a bit more about the town’s history with witchcraft, than she is letting on. The cast of THE WITCHES also includes Ann Bell, Ingrid Brett, John Collin, Michele Dotrice, Gwen Ffrangcon Davies, Duncan Lamont, Leonard Rossiter and Martin Stephens.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has done a splendid job with their DVD release of THE WITCHES. THE WITCHES is framed fairly close to its 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio, plus the DVD has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. The image is clean, sharp and displays a relatively good level of detail. Colors are strong, with natural looking flesh tones and no signs of chromatic distortion. The film element used for the transfer is in very good condition, exhibiting few age related blemishes. Mild film grain appears in a few places, but it never calls attention to itself. Blacks are accurate and the picture has decent shadow detail for a film of this vintage. Digital compression artifacts are well concealed on this DVD.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is free from distortion, although there are the expected frequency limitations and a tiny bit of hiss that one naturally associates with a film released in 1966. Dialogue is cleanly reproduced and the track will take a fair amount of amplification without any problem.

The interactive menus contain a bit of animation and sound, but are otherwise quite basic. Through the menus, one has access to the scene selection feature, as well as a couple of extras. Included on the DVD is the UK theatrical trailer, plus 20 and 60 second combo TV spots for THE WITCHES and PREHISTORIC WOMEN. A World Of Hammer episode entitled WICKED WOMEN fills out the extras. Note that this episode includes clips from THE ANNIVERSARY and THE NANNY, the two films that Bette Davis made for Hammer. Perhaps fans will get lucky and Fox will release these two Hammer films on DVD as one of their double features.

In terms of quality, Anchor bay Entertainment delivers the goods once again. THE WITCHES is another Hammer outing that fans will want to add to their collections.




DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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