DVD Review: The Witch Who Came From The Sea

Published on February 6th, 2015 in: Current Faves, DVD, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Feminism, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

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From the lurid Frank Frazetta-style cover art to its evocative title, The Witch Who Came From The Sea seems like it might be a female-fronted version of The Beastmaster. As intriguing as that possibility sounds, the film is something altogether different and much more profound. Directed by Matt Cimber (Butterfly, Hundra) in 1971, The Witch Who Came From The Sea wasn’t released until 1976, and even then, ran afoul of the MPAA for what they considered gratuitous violence, nudity, and rather dark subject matter.

I feel it’s best to go into this film with a limited understanding of that subject matter so if you want to see The Witch Who Came From The Sea, don’t read the synopsis on the back of the recently reissued DVD from Cinema Epoch. Instead, watch the film for an early example of renowned cinematographer Dean Cundey’s work and the kind of raw, unflinching tone—both visual and narrative—that is nearly non-existent in today’s metacritical, ultra ironic cinematic climate.

Lead actress Millie Perkins plays Molly, a barmaid in southern California in the decadent, decaying early ’70s, when the hippie dream turned into a nightmare for some. If you’re confused about what the hell is going on in the first 15 – 20 minutes of the film, you won’t be the first. But Perkins is so mesmerizing you’ll want to keep watching to see what happens. When you get to the film’s heartbreaking but inevitable ending, all those little details that seemed like non sequiturs will make sense.

Even though I’m trying to avoid spoilers, I can reveal that the feminist thread running through The Witch Who Came From The Sea is a taut one. The litany of misogyny, from subtle and “well-meaning” to hideous and brutal, is reminiscent of the original title of Steig Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Men Who Hate Women. The ways in which the female characters navigate the sexist milieu of the film will strike a chord with all the women who’ve endured the same bullshit.

In addition to Perkins, the cast is superb: Lonny Chapman as Long John the bar owner; Vanessa Brown as Cathy, Molly’s concerned sister; Rick Jason as Billy Batt, the actor with a killer smile; and the peerless Peggy Feury as Doris, Molly’s ball-busting barmaid friend and coworker. Many of these actors were theater stalwarts, so their IMDB profiles might be surprisingly short or lacking in mainstream cinema accolades, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they aren’t incredibly talented.

The dreamlike tone of the film, as well as the fractured narrative is perfect for unfurling the troubled life of an anti-heroine who has been broken by the world. Although The Witch Who Came From The Sea stands as a singular, vital addition to the great tradition of independent cinema, one can see the influence of this style on more recent experimental films like Calvin Lee Reeder’s The Rambler (review) or Josephine Decker’s Butter On The Latch. As long as filmmakers keep holding the torch of iconoclasm high, adventurous film lovers will keep watching for the flames.

The Witch Who Came From The Sea was reissued on DVD by Cinema Epoch on May 20, 2014. The disc contains a commentary track with director Matt Cimber, DP Dean Cundey, and actress Molly Perkins. It’s a compelling listen. There’s also a featurette from the 2004 Subversive reissue of the film called “A Maiden’s Voyage: Remembering The Witch Who Came From The Sea” that covers a lot of the same ground, but is still a nice addition to this release.

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