Following the tremendous box office and critical success of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby in 1968, it was only a matter of time before moviegoers were inundated with an onslaught of copy cat occult-themed films. It seemed at the time that no branch of genre cinema could avoid producing a film or two involving demonic influence and/or witchcraft, including the British ‘sexploitation’ industry. This is where 1972′s Virgin Witch comes in, slapping a thinly-veiled exposé of the counter-culture movement of free love and sexual experimentation onto a bare-bones story of a coven of witches looking for new members.
Which is not to say that the film is devoid of any merit whatsoever. Ably directed by television veteran Ray Austin (The Avengers, Magnum P.I.), Virgin Witch, recently released on Blu-ray by Redemption Films, moves along at a quick enough pace and is actually fairly entertaining, offering a fresh twist on the ‘innocent young girls getting swept up in a web of evil’ theme of so many of the lurid sexploitation films of the day. When two sisters, Christine (Ann Michelle, House of Whipcord and the cult classic Psychomania) and Betty (Vicki Michelle, British TV’s ‘Allo ‘Allo!), move to London for adventure and opportunity, they meet a playboy who lets them stay at his flat for a few days and warns them against answering suspect ads looking for models. Of course, we wouldn’t have a film if the girls didn’t do just that, and so Christine goes to visit famous modedel agency head – and apparently raging lesbian – Sybil Waite (Patricia Haines, The Night Caller), who quickly gets Christine to disrobe so she can take her measurements. Sybil offers her a job as a last-minute replacement for a photo shoot at a country estate for the weekend, and Christine accepts, providing her sister can come as well. Soon enough, we learn that Sybil has much more nefarious plans for the two sisters, and the estate is actually the base of operations for a coven of witches, led by Sybil and the obligatory male counterpart, Gerald Ameberly (British TV actor Neil Hallett, looking like a more lecherous Jerry Springer). As is expected of films of this ilk, the stage is set for much nudity and lurid (for the time) sexual parlor games and rituals. Christine, however, seems unfrightened and is even eager to join the coven. This is where Virgin Witch differs from its brethren, which normally set up a scenario from which the innocents must try and escape. Here, though, Christine is no innocent victim and actually has her sights set on loftier goals.
This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t, and Virgin Witch‘s main goal seems to be to titillate the audience with wave after wave of nudity (the lovely sisters and Miss Waite, but also the not-so-lovely other members of the coven) and soft-core lesbianism. The gothic setting of an estate in the coutryside and the musical score by Ted Dicks create a nice ambiance reminiscent of the Hammer horror films of the late 50s and early 60s, but the subject matter and how it’s portrayed – a somewhat benign coven more interested in bizarre and hilarious sexual rituals than in anything really having to do with witchcraft – make for a very non-frightening film that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.
While Virgin Witch will never be perceived as one of the greatest-looking films of all time, Redemption did a fine job in re-mastering the 35mm negative for this Blu-ray release, with the colors popping just as much as the abundant bare breasts do. Not as much can be said about the sound mix, though. Presented in 2.0 stereo, the dialogue is often muddled and occasionally overpowered by the music. Besides the original theatrical trailer and a rather pedestrian photo gallery of sixteen stills from the film, the only other special feature to speak of is a series of trailers for French director Jean Rollin’s films released by Redemption: The Nude Vampire, The Shiver of the Vampires, Lips of Blood, The Iron Rose, and Fascination.
Virgin Witch will never be mistaken for a cinematic classic, but what it does accomplish is to keep the audience interested in its thin story in spite of (because of?) its shameless cheesecake nudity and sexual abandon, even though there are no real scares for horror fans, and little else for fans of any other genre. That’s gotta be worth something, right?
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