Walter Comes, 1945
Starring: Nancy Kelly, John Loder, Otto Kruger
Lorna Webster is returning to Eden Rock, Massachusetts after being away for a few years. During her bus ride there, a strange old woman wearing an odd black veil sits next to her. The woman claims to be Jezebel Trister, a witch burned at the stake in Eden Rock 300 years prior. There is a bus accident and Lorna is the only survivor, but comes to believe that she has been possessed by Jezebel.
Her former fiancé, Dr. Matt Adams, is the only person in Eden Rock who is happy to see her and becomes actively engaged in her recovery. During this process they their rekindle their relationship. Lorna becomes obsessed with Jezebel and begins to see the old woman’s face in mirrors around her house. A number of strange things happen, such as flowers immediately dying when Lorna touches them, and she finds Jezebel’s confession in the church basement that confirms the witch’s supposed three hundred year pact with the Devil.
The townsfolk are obviously unhappy to see her and become superstitious, if not outright hysterical. They believe she is involved in the illness of a child, Matt’s niece Peggy, after the girl tried to take shelter at Lorna’s home during a storm. The villagers come to believe she really is possessed and a strange, black dog begins to follow her everywhere. Will Lorna succumb to Jezebel Trister’s evil destiny?
Made by one of the many poverty row studios operating at the time, Republic Pictures, The Woman Who Came Back is a subtle and compelling film that borrows much from Val Lewton’s horror production for RKO during the same period, such as Cat People and The Leopard Man. There’s also a dash of Carl Dreyer’s excellent witchcraft hysteria film, Day of Wrath, thrown in for good measure. Though this is undeniably a cheap production and suffers from a number of plot issues, it is an interesting experiment in the supernatural, suspicion, and hysteria.
There are a lot of welcome genre tropes, such as Lorna’s creepy old house, dying flowers, the black dog that follows her, old books on witchcraft, some stormy nights, and threatening shadows at every turn. Director Walter Colmes opens and closes with some nice Halloween scenes, making this a perfect film to watch for the upcoming Halloween season. Nancy Kelly (The Bad Seed) is likable as Lorna and doesn’t succumb to full on hysteria until the end of the film, helping with the understated tone. John Loder (The Private Lives of Henry VIII) is decent as her determined and rational fiancé. Otto Kruger (Dracula’s Daughter, Another Thin Man, Saboteur) is great as the town’s reverend, seemingly the only levelheaded person in the film, and it’s a shame he wasn’t given more screen time.
This is not a perfect film and I can’t say it’s a must watch, but anyone who enjoys classic horror will like it. There are a number of flaws in the script, namely the fact that a few things go unresolved. Why did Lorna leave Matt (and town) years earlier? Why does she hide the child’s doll? The film could take a few things a bit further, particularly where Lorna’s ancestor and Jezebel’s black dog are concerned, but shies away from these particularly during the second half of the film.
The ending is rushed and hastily slaps a rational explanation onto the proceedings, which sort of ruins the wonderful build up and strange events that have been occurring throughout the film. Still, it is worth watching at least once. There is an out of print Image DVD, plus the film is streaming on Amazon, Hulu, and YouTube.