Matt Cimber, 1976
Starring: Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown, Peggy Feury, Jean Pierre Camps, Mark Livingston
Molly is spending time at the beach with her two nephews and tells them wild stories about her father and their grandfather, once a sea captain. She also regularly has affairs with body builders and other muscular men at the beach, sometimes fantasizing about murdering them. Are these acts taking place in her mind, or is Molly really killing men? These fantasies, combined with a strange version of the myth of the “Birth of Venus” that Molly hears trigger repressed memories in her and she begins to recall incidents of child abuse perpetrated by her father. She is clearly beginning to lose her mind as local police search for a killer who has been castrating their victims…
An unusual entry in the ‘70s horror and exploitation canon, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is probably what I would describe as a sensitive exploitation film, not quite as flagrant as Last House on the Left or I Spit On Your Grave, but clearly far afield from an introspective art house film. As with I Spit On Your Grave, Molly seduces men to kill them, but unlike the former, more infamous film, she is getting a more general revenge against mankind than specific revenge against her attackers. She focuses on muscular macho men and seems to be attacking a specific type.
This was briefly considered one of the infamous video nasties in Britain, but was eventually removed from the list. The violence is relatively tame, though there are a few surprising murders including one scene with a razor that I wouldn’t want to spoil. Most of this occurs throughout the film and the gory conclusion that seems inevitable is never delivered. Anyone expecting a lot of gore will probably be disappointed, as this is far more psychological and we are never really sure if Molly is responsible for her actions or simply imagining them.
The slow, careful pacing and blend of sexual horror and Freudian psychodrama reminds me of other obscure ‘70s films like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and a very strange softcore film that also deals with the aftermath of child abuse, Through the Looking Glass, as well as ‘60s films like Repulsion and Night Tide. Director Matt Cimber was also responsible for He and She, The Black Six, and other cult and exploitation films. Screenwriter Robert Thom (Angel, Angel, Down We Go) was married to star Millie Perkins at the time and seemingly built the main role around her, even naming some of the characters after people in Perkins’ real life. This is also one of the first films shot by celebrated cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween, The Thing).
The Witch Who Came from the Sea certainly benefits from a solid lead performance from Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank), who seems to be constantly hovering on the precipice between instability and outright insanity. There is also a decent supporting cast made up of a number of B actors, including Lonny Chapman (The Birds), Peggy Feury (The Last Tycoon), Roberta Collins (The Big Doll House), George Flower (They Live), Vanessa Brown (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir), and Lynne Guthrie (The Working Girls).
The ocean and water symbolism may be a bit overwrought, but is still lovely and effective. As with Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Molly is an unreliable narrator and it is unclear whether the events unfolding are fantasy or reality. She opens the film by telling her nephews the story of her father, a sea captain lost to the ocean. Many of the scenes take place near water, whether on the beach or in a bathroom. The source of her instability - sexual abuse - may seem a little predictable, but this tricky, uncomfortable subject matter is well handled by the script. This sexual trauma is intertwined with love, pleasure, fantasy, identity, and puberty.
Though it was unavailable for many years, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is available uncut on DVD with a number of nice special features. It’s not a film for everyone, but film fans interested in more obscure exploitation fare and psychodramas will find a lot to enjoy here. It comes recommended, though the bleak subject matter is not for the faint of heart.