Wicked Witches: Virgin Witch (1972)
by Steve Habrat
A year before English director Robin Hardy’s tasteful and intelligent 1973 horror film The Wicker Man, fellow English director Ray Austin released Virgin Witch, a sleazy exploitation film that surely pleased midnight audiences craving some non-stop sex and nudity. Featuring slightly above average acting, enthusiastic editing, and playful camerawork, Virgin Witch is a fairly handsome B-movie that doesn’t miss a chance to show off for the viewer. Considering the film falls into the exploitation category, you might be thinking that Virgin Witch also contains some extremely graphic violence to go along with all the sex and nudity, but the film is actually a bloodless affair. It also happens to be devoid of any real attempt to scare the viewer, as clearly the emphasis was on the steamy side of things rather than the satanic rituals presented to us in lighting schemes that could very well have inspired the neon glow of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Despite all the skin on display, Virgin Witch quickly reveals that it is light on plot, stretching its rickety storyline to the breaking point and spreading it thinly as possible. It buries it underneath heaping piles of panache and close-ups of pretty faces, but after about a half-hour, it’s clear that the story doesn’t intend on developing itself much further.
Virgin Witch introduces us to Christine (played by Ann Michelle) and Betty (played by Vicki Michelle), two unemployed sisters who leave a restrictive home and shack up with Johnny (played by Keith Buckley), a free-spirited fellow who enjoys flirting with every girl he meets. Desperate to find a job, the beautiful Christine has an interview with a shady modeling agency run by Sybil Waite (played by Patricia Haines), who quickly takes a liking to the desperate girl and offers her a modeling gig at a remote castle in the English countryside. Despite the virginal Betty’s unease about the job, the girls venture to the castle where they meet a young photographer named Peter (played by James Chase), castle owner Gerald Amberly (played by Neil Hallett), and several other mysterious locals. While exploring the castle, Betty stumbles upon a room that appears to be used for satanic rituals and Sybil begins questioning Christine about her belief in the supernatural. It soon becomes clear that Gerald and Sybil are the high priest and priestess of a coven of witches, and that they intend to use Christine in one of their rituals. Christine partakes in the ritual and after a wild night, she decides that she wants to join the coven. She begins trying to talk Betty into joining, but she also has another sinister plan which involves taking Sybil’s place as high priestess.
Virgin Witch immediately lets the viewer in on what it has on its mind in the very first frame of the film. This puppy is all about the female form and it comes at you like a speeding bullet with psychedelic images of nude girls posing for the camera. Unlike some exploitation films that would simply glare statically at all the flesh, Austin spins his camera around, flips it, slides it, and pushes it in for fast close ups that lend the film a bit of personality. It actually allows it to become a bit more than just a Halloween issue of Playboy in cinematic form. As far as the sex goes, it’s nothing too racy and its dropped right into the scenes that are supposed to be freaky. Austin fills the set with red and green mood lighting as he presents extreme close ups of two characters getting busy on a satanic alter, all while the other members of the coven dance around like grinning school children. It’s not scary or suspenseful and it’s far from erotic. It’s almost sort of goofy in a way, especially when he cuts to the spinning members who look like they took too much acid at psychedelic rock concert. To be honest, there is barely any effort put in to making the film scary—the only attempts to make us jump are a few surprise jolts and an image of a satanic mask that keeps rearing its ugly mug.
While much of the action drifts towards silly, the actors and actresses work double time to sell each and every scene with a straight face. Real life sisters Ann and Vicki Michelle are certainly talented enough, but they aren’t asked to ever challenge themselves. When the action slows, they simply shed their clothing and strut around for the camera. As for the evil Christine, Austin uses camera tricks to give a bit of menace to the performance. He zooms in on Ann’s eyes, which is supposed to signify that she is starting to become our antagonist and that she wishes to cast an evil spell in Sybil Waite. Vicki’s virginal Betty acts the voice of reason to Christine’s free spirited nature, but the script fails to give her much to do, so she basically wanders through the film. Chase’s Peter is fairly strong as the photographer there to show off Ann’s naked body. Surprisingly, he adds a bit of legitimate romantic depth to his character that most wouldn’t have dared to even bother with. Haines has a cold side as Sybil, a lesbian witch who is overjoyed when Christine gives herself over to the coven. Hallett is restrained as Gerald, the laid-back high priest of the coven who gets to have his way with Christine. Buckely rounds out the cast as Johnny, a massive flirt who suspects that Christine and Betty may be in danger.
As Christine’s plot to take Sybil’s place as high priestess kicks in, Austin makes a brief attempt in the last ten minutes to get your pulse pounding. What results is a darkened chase through the castle’s gardens that basically features a bunch of screaming. The smidgeon of suspense is neutralized when Betty and Johnny make a run from the castle, collapse nude in the woods, and Betty whispers to Johnny that she wants him to take her virginity right then and there. Never mind that they were just being threatened by a coven of witches! It’s scenes like this that make it nearly impossible to take the film seriously or view it as a serious horror effort. While Virgin Witch holds up visually, some of the sound work in places makes it difficult to understand what the characters are saying and the thick English accents don’t make it any easier. I’m never one to complain about accents in movies but this one tempted me to turn on the subtitles more than once. Overall, Austin approaches the project with plenty of zest and he does turn Virgin Witch a visual winner, but as a serious horror film, it’s a massive failure. If you’re in the mood to watch a bunch of people run and dance around in their birthday suits, this is the film for you, but if it is sheer thought-provoking terror you seek, it’s best to start looking for a different coven of witches.
Virgin Witch is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Posted on October 15, 2013, in REViEW and tagged 1972, ann michelle, british horror, exploitation, horror, james chase, keith buckley, neil hallett, patricia haines, ray austin, supernatural horror, vicki michelle, witch horror movies. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.