Virgin Witch (1971)

Real-life sisters Ann and Vicki Michelle are cinematic siblings Christine and Betty in Virgin Witch (1971), a controversial Tigon film from that period in British film history when the only surefire path to box office success was directly over the naked bums of young actresses. It also belongs, albeit loosely, to the early-70’s subgenre of occult lesbian canoodling, though for once no vampires are involved. In fact, there’s hardly anything occult, either…but there is a lot of canoodling. I have to write about this film quickly because give me another couple of hours and I’ll have forgotten it entirely. The two London girls are invited by a modeling agency up the country to an estate in Wychwold – a town with a name that should caution the average tourist. Ostensibly Christine is present for an “important” photo shoot, one which involves shedding clothing, posing on the tops of cars, and imitating Eve eating an apple. She quickly becomes enamored by the eccentric inhabitants of this estate, which include the master of the house, decadent, piano-playing Gerald Amberley (Neil Hallett), randy young photographer Peter (James Chase), and Sybil (Patricia Haines), a lesbian who becomes attracted to Christine and insists on calling her “Christina,” because it sounds better. Meanwhile, the more skeptical Betty begins exploring the mansion and uncovers some occult paraphernelia, including a demon mask straight out of Onibaba (1964). This group is actually a coven, and Gerald is the high priest. Christine wants in.

Sybil (Patricia Haines, ex-wife of Michael Caine) opines on the benefits of witchcraft while standing before an "Onibaba"-style demon mask.

It’s hard to say exactly what the coven does. They’re pleasure-seekers who enjoy an enthusiastic black magic orgy, which means, in this case, a lot of naked dancing: waving the arms in the air and the shaking of breasts. Christine is initiated through some very not-sexy fornication on an altar with the middle-aged Gerald, under sickly green light. Betty is encouraged to join the coven too, and she brings along her boyfriend so they can also do the deed before the jiggling flesh of the witches and warlocks – so that’s kind of sweet, I guess. But the seemingly-naïve Christine proves to have bigger career ambitions than Sybil and Gerald had suspected, and soon she’s making a deadly power play to advance her position in the cult. If I made this film sound plot-heavy, I apologize; it is not. The above is stretched out over a very long 88 minutes, with very little happening apart from the constant display of skin (at one point, the film stops so that Sybil can take Christine’s measurements). Not that the Michelle sisters aren’t lovely to behold in their birthday suits, and I can only assume that this is the principal reason the film is now out on Blu-Ray from Eurocult label Redemption Films, now catching a second wind from its new distribution deal with Kino.

Sisters Vicki and Ann Michelle as Betty and Christine, aspiring models on the path to witchery.

We’re just never exactly sure what’s at stake, if you’ll pardon the expression. Christine and Betty don’t seem to be in any real danger, and the coven is largely harmless; like so many Satanic-themed films, it’s hard not to get the impression that these are merely decadent hippies who don’t get out of the cellar temple very much. (While watching movies like this, invariably my thoughts go to the scene in Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate when Frank Langella berates a throng of dark-robed cultists as being nothing but a bunch of phonies.) Stranger still, the dreary lounge music soundtrack doesn’t even feel contemporary to 1971; title song “You Go Your Way,” sung by Helen Downing and written by the film’s co-producer, Hazel Adair (creator of the soap opera Crossroads), sounds like something from the soundtrack of Manos: the Hands of Fate (1966). This film isn’t that bad, of course; it’s pretty but disposable, with a script desperately in need of inspiration. The British Board of Film Classification originally rejected the film and demanded cuts, though it’s hard to see what the fuss was about. In another year or two, Virgin Witch would seem passé. The Blu-Ray looks just fine, though I found the audio to be a little muddy (probably true to the source). There are no real extras apart from a photo gallery and a trailer, and that’s appropriate for a very forgettable film. Some promotional material in the gallery uses the tagline: “Witches have special powers. This is one of them!” (I guess that means they’re sexy.) One correction to a previous statement of mine about the Jean Rollin Blu-Ray releases: apparently Redemption is using the spine numbering for all their discs, Criterion-style, and not just the Rollin films. This film is spine #7.

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