Cast & Crew
Christine gets her big chance at modelling when she applies at Sybil Waite's agency. Together with Christine's sister Betty they go to a castle for the weekend for a photo shoot. Sybil has lured Christine to the castle for more than modelling: she is recruiting a virgin for induction into a witch's coven, led by the owner of the castle, Gerald. To their surprise, Christine is more than eager to join the coven, but begins her own secret battle for control.
Virgin Witch - 1972 British Tale of the Supernatural
Anticipating to a degree Ti West's recent House of the Devil (2009), in which a Satanist couple retain an unsuspecting college-aged babysitter for a long, dark night of the soul that concludes with a demonic fertilization, Virgin Witch plays its hand much earlier on, not only exposing fully the infernal machinations of the coven (led by Neil Hallet, of X, the Unknown  and The Giant Behemoth ) but showing the ostensibly unsuspecting Christine to be more than up for membership, emboldened by Sybil's admission that "the entire advertising industry is witchcraft, darling. The poor old public is permanently spellbound." When Christine (who has been renamed Christina by Sybil, perhaps to soften the Biblical import of her given name) employs black magic to undermine Sybil's authority, all the better to improve her position in the coven, Virgin Witch begins to look a bit like All About Eve; perhaps a better title might have been All About Evil.
The forfeiture of diablerie by the cult in question allows Virgin Witch to avoid the pitfalls of most movies about Satanism, in which bit players writhe about pathetically in bogus orgiastics while their aggregate blasphemies rarely progress beyond second base. A year before The Wicker Man (1973) became a milestone in the subgenre, the script by Beryl Vertue (signing herself as Klaus Vogel) posits a tenable cabal, which has coopted ancient rites as a business model. The stakes are refreshingly low and entirely internecine, even as Vertue condescends to a hoary subplot in which Betty's boyfriend Johnny (Keith Buckley, a memorable victim in Dr. Phibes Rises Again the same year) races to Wychwold to save her from corruption. As in All About Eve, initial sympathy for Christine/Christina shifts to the once formidable Sybil ("She's the other way," Johnny hisses with unrestrained disgust. "She fancies birds."), whose destruction by proxy makes up the meat of the third act.
Though remembered with near exclusivity on the arguable merit of its (arguable) sleaziness, Virgin Witch boasts an accomplished pedigree. Director Ray Austin was a veteran stuntman, whose CV includes early jobs on Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) and Kubrick's Spartacus (1960) before his promotion to stunt arranger and later director of episodes of The Avengers. Austin helmed another horror movie, the South African-set House of the Living Dead (1974), as well as episodes of Space: 1999 and The New Avengers, before immigrating to the States and work on American weeklies as Barnaby Jones, Hart to Hart and Magnum, P.I.. Originally a secretary for comic writer Alan Simpson, Beryl Vertue wound up a force to contend with in British television, helping to broker the sale of the sitcom Steptoe and Son to Hollywood as Sanford and Son and serving as an agent for Dr. Who creator Terry Nation. Most recently, Vertue has executive produced episodes of the BBC's well-regarded Sherlock Holmes, co-created by her son-in-law Stephen Moffatt.
Redemption's latest DVD of this title, which they have offered at least twice before in Great Britain, comes via a partnership with the American outfit Kino Lorber. Framed at 1.66:1, the image (mastered from the original 35mm negative) is clear and colorful; flesh tones are not only lifelike but all manner of skin imperfections are exposed by Gerald Moss' camera, from an old injury visible on Anne Michelle's bared right knee to a slight scar on the upper lip of supporting player Helen Dowling (who appears briefly but memorably in the role of black torch singer Abby Darke). Chromatics are invigoratingly vibrant, from the red robes of the cultists to Sybil Waite's disconcerting aqua-marine dinner candles, which adds a definite visceral and sensual layer to Virgin Witch. The mono sound is not nearly as satisfying and remains a bit muffled and prone to slight distortion throughout. Extras on the disc run to just a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer, but collar to cuffs Virgin Witch remains a commendable curio of the British horror boom just before its bare bottom fell out.
For more information about Virgin Witch, visit Kino Lorber.
by Richard Harland Smith