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D: Matt Cimber / 87m

Cast: Millie Perkins, Lonny Chapman, Vanessa Brown, Peggy Feury, Jean Pierre Camps, Mark Livingston, Rick Jason, Stafford Morgan, Richard Kennedy, George ‘Buck’ Flower, Roberta Collins

As a child, Molly (Perkins) was sexually abused by her father. As an adult, Molly works in a bar called the Boathouse, and is in a relationship with the owner, Long John (Chapman). She has a sister, Cathy (Brown), and two young nephews she adores, Tadd (Camps) and Triploi (Livingston). She regales her nephews with tales of their grandfather and what a kind, loving man he was, a captain of a ship who was lost at sea when she was much younger. The two boys believe her stories completely, but these fantasies are indicative of the struggle that Molly is having in dealing with the psychological trauma of her childhood. She experiences a fever dream in which she kills two famous football players, but when the two men are found dead, Molly faces an even greater struggle to stop herself from falling victim to the murderous rages that come over her whenever she’s around men who remind her of her father, or who project a certain masculine image through television adverts.

A movie that was once regarded in the UK as a “video nasty”, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is an under-rated psychological thriller (with horror overtones) that charts one woman’s descent into madness in a way that is both haunting and disturbing. The movie is directed with great skill by Cimber, and there’s a terrific central performance from Perkins, but the key player here is sceenwriter Robert Thom. During the Seventies, Thom wrote the screenplays for Bloody Mama (1970), Death Race 2000 (1975), this, and several others. All were low budget movies that like this one, thrived on Thom’s ability to exceed audience expectations thanks to his unerring ability to ground even the most extreme incidents, and his sharp ear for dialogue. Thom started out writing for the theatre, and there are moments where the movie feels like it’s a play that has been adapted for the screen. This gives the movie a greater sense of depth, and a greater sense of tragedy as events unfold. As Molly drifts between reality and fantasy, and becomes increasingly unable to differentiate between the two, Thom’s layered screenplay, Perkins’ bold portrayal, and Cimber’s restrained yet visceral direction, combine to create a movie that is hard to look away from – but in a good way.

For an actress who has never been entirely comfortable with the trappings of being an actress, Perkins gives a formdiable performance, investing Molly with a forlorn, anxious appearance that affords glimpses of self-awareness in amongst her mostly irrational behaviour. She’s also able to make Molly’s dialogue sound at times like an interior monologue, an effect that further illustrates the emotional and psychological dysfunction she’s experiencing. Perkins is provided with fine support from the likes of Chapman, Brown and Feury (as another Boathouse waitress who provides Molly with “pharmaceutical assistance”), and Cimber ensures that even the smallest of roles fits in neatly with the overall scenario. The visual look of the movie is quite subdued, with mostly grey and brown tones used throughout, but the cinematography – by Ken Gibb and Dean Cundey – is a good match for the dark emotional undercurrents that pepper the screenplay. Also effective is the decision to distort the audio during those sequences when Molly can’t tell if she’s fantasising about killing someone, or is actually doing it. It’s all done very cleverly, and takes the movie far from the exploitation trappings that viewers might be expecting.

Rating: 8/10 – far better than it perhaps has any right to be on paper, The Witch Who Came from the Sea is a first-rate psychological thriller that is unsettling, and oppressive, for much of its running time; Perkins gives an exceptional performance, and the whole tortured narrative feels disarmingly organic, with any missteps serving only to highlight just how good this movie is, and how well it’s been put together.

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