Witchcraft – UK, 1964 – reviews

‘After 300 years in the grave… they returned to reap blood havoc!’

Witchcraft is a 1964 British supernatural horror feature film directed by Don Sharp (Psychomania; Rasputin – The Mad MonkThe Kiss of the Vampire, Curse of the Fly) from a screenplay by Harry Spalding (Chosen Survivors; Curse of the FlyHouse of the Damned).

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The Lippert Films production stars Lon Chaney Jr. in one of his last decent acting roles alongside Jack Hedley (The New York Ripper) and Jill Dixon. Some of the exteriors were shot at Oakley Court, also the location for a number of Hammer horror production scenes.

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Plot:

In the 17th century, the Lanier family buried a Whitlock woman alive as a witch and took over the Whitlock estate. A bitter hatred of the Lanier family continues into the present. However, two descendants, Amy Whitlock (Diane Clare) and Todd Lanier (David Weston), fall in love and plan to marry regardless of the families objections.

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The Laniers, headed by Bill Lanier (Jack Hedley), are building developers who now own part of the old Whitlock Estate. Without their knowledge and following the instructions of Lanier manager Myles Forrester (Barry Linehan) a bulldozer overturns headstones and churns up graves in the old Whitlock Cemetery.

At night, when all is quiet an exhumed grave opens and Vanessa Whitlock (Yvette Rees), the witch buried centuries ago, rises from the grave. Together with Morgan Whitlock (Lon Chaney Jr.), they use their witchcraft and one-by-one, the Laniers meet with various fatal accidents…

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Reviews:

“Often reminiscent of the Val Lewton films in its quiet, underplayed realism.” Sight and Sound

“Although he received top billing, the bloated and worn-looking Chaney’s screen time in Witchcraft is limited. When he does appear, he stumbles about ineffectively and practically shouts his lines. The merits of this film can be attributed to a not-bad screenplay by Harry Spalding, competent production values on a low budget, and efficient, constraint-defying direction by Don Sharp.” David L. Rattigan, Bedlam: A Journal of Horror & the Macabre

“Though competently-made by Don Sharp, this is lacking the wry black humor, thoughtfulness and intellectualism that made some other British Satanism / witchcraft movies from around this time – Curse of the Demon (1957) or Night of the Eagle (1962), for instance – so memorable. It’s also a bit jumbled when you look past the sometimes handsome black-and-white images…” The Bloody Pit of Horror

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“Other highlights include Tracy’s moonlight into the clutches of the coven and the aged and crippled Helen alone and stalked by Vanessa. The film’s fiery climax is also well-staged, with the filmmakers purchasing and then destroying a house already scheduled for demolition. But despite these teasing hints, nothing more meaningful emerges and Witchcraft remains an interesting but minor effort.” John Hamilton, X-Cert

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Buy: Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com

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“While the plot contains nothing startlingly original it’s executed with energy and a certain amount of style. Don Sharp was always good at pacing his films, and this is no exception. The black-and-white cinematography looks pretty good, and most of the ingredients you’d expect are there, including the obligatory Black Mass.” Cult Movie Reviews

“Though a bit talky in parts, Witchcraft summons eerie scenes that are worthy of comparison with the Italian Gothics, such as necromantic rituals conducted in the family crypt.” William Burns, The Thrill of Repulsion: Excursions Into Horror Culture

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“This very low-budget for the film is helped greatly by Don Sharp’s canny direction but is hindered by the miscasting of Lon Chaney, Jr., who blusters his way through the part.” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams

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Cast and characters:

  • Lon Chaney Jr. … Morgan Whitlock (as Lon Chaney)
  • Jack Hedley … Bill Lanier
  • Jill Dixon … Tracy Lanier
  • Viola Keats … Helen Lanier
  • Marie Ney … Malvina Lanier
  • David Weston … Todd Lanier
  • Diane Clare … Amy Whitlock
  • Yvette Rees … Vanessa Whitlock
  • Barry Linehan … Myles Forrester
  • Victor Brooks … Inspector Baldwin
  • Marianne Stone … Forrester’s Secretary
  • John Dunbar … Doctor
  • Hilda Fenemore … Nurse (as Hilda Fennemore)

Technical details:

  • 79 minutes
  • Sound: Mono (RCA Sound Recording)
  • Black and white
  • Aspect ratio: 1.66: 1

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