Cast & Crew
While teaching at a mission school in central Africa, Gwen Mayfield is subjected to a traumatic encounter with a voodoo witch doctor and suffers a nervous collapse. Once recovered, she returns to England and accepts a position as headmistress of a small private school run by Alan Bax, who poses as a priest, and his sister Stephanie, a journalist with a strong interest in witchcraft. Although the village and school are pleasant, Gwen soon senses that her brightest pupil, 13-year-old Linda Rigg, is looked upon with suspicion by most of the townspeople. Further investigation proves that Linda's best friend, Ronnie Dowsett, is being kept away from the girl because of the belief that a local voodoo cult is planning to offer her as a virgin sacrifice. Matters come to a head when Ronnie becomes seriously ill, and a voodoo image of a young boy is found with pins stuck in it. Soon after, Ronnie's father meets a strange death while attempting to find the reason for his son's illness. Gwen plans to speak out at the dead father's inquest, but that night a horrifying voodoo image appears in her bedroom, and she again suffers a nervous breakdown. While at a nursing home, she recovers her memory and escapes back to the village. Aided by Alan, she makes her way to a secret cave and learns that Stephanie has the entire village in her control through the practice of witchcraft. In the cave, Stephanie is preparing to immortalize herself by sacrificing Linda. Gwen is forcibly initiated into the cult, but by spilling her own blood, she is able to break the spell and bring about Stephanie's death. With the village freed of the practitioners of black magic, Gwen chooses to remain on as headmistress of Alan's school.
Richard Rodney Bennett
The Devil's Own
In a suspenseful opening sequence, we first see Gwen Mayfield (Fontaine), a schoolteacher in a rural African village, being terrorized by the local witchdoctor. The incident drives her to a nervous breakdown and she returns to England where she eventually finds a position as the headmistress at a private school run by Alan Bax (Alec McCowen), and his sister Stephanie (Kay Walsh). Things aren't quite as they appear on the surface though; Alan is not really the cleric he presents himself to be (even though he dresses like a priest and plays taped organ music in his study) and sister Stephanie hides her own agenda behind a facade of superstition and paranoia. Soon, a series of strange events occur driving Gwen to a second nervous breakdown but she manages to return to Haddaby School to uncover the cause of all the trouble - a witch coven practicing virgin sacrifices!
Much of the exterior work on The Devil's Own was filmed in the English village of Hambleden and on the estate of Lord Hambleden, owner of the popular W.H. Smith bookstore in England. Among the familiar faces in the supporting cast is Martin Stephens (he played the demonic alien child in Village of the Damned, 1960, and the haunted boy in The Innocents, 1961) but the real scene-stealer here is Kay Walsh (Oliver Twist, 1948, The Ruling Class, 1972) who appears in full black mass regalia at the film's fever pitch climax. Also notable is the screenplay by Nigel Kneale, the famous science fiction/horror writer who penned the popular Quatermass trilogy for the BBC (all three were later filmed by Hammer Studios), and the direction by Cyril Frankel who hadn't helmed a feature for Hammer since his once-controversial child molestation drama, Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960).
Interestingly enough, Fontaine was the one who initiated the film, buying the rights to Peter Curtis's novel and bringing it to Hammer for development. But she was insistent on describing the film as "a detective story rather than straight horror," as if to remove any doubt that she was slumming in a genre beneath her talents. Unfortunately, The Devil's Own was her final film before retiring from the screen and barely attracted the notice of the public or critics though today it holds the distinction of being one of Hammer's more offbeat excursions into the occult.
Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys
Director: Cyril Frankel
Screenplay: Nigel Kneale, based on the novel by Peter Curtis
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Film Editing: James Needs
Art Direction: Don Mingaye
Music: Richard Rodney Bennett
Cast: Joan Fontaine (Gwen Mayfield), Kay Walsh (Stephanie Bax), Alec McCowen (Alan Bax), Ann Bell (Sally), Ingrid Brett (Linda), John Collin (Dowsett), Martin Stephens (Ronnie Dowsett).
by Jeff Stafford
The Devil's Own
Joan Fontaine reportedly purchased the film rights to Peter Curtis' novel and brought the project to Hammer.
Released in Great Britain in 1966 as The Witches.