(director: Dan Sharp; screenwriter: Harry Spalding; cinematographer: Arthur Lavis; editor: Robert Winter; music: Carlo Martelli; cast: Lon Chaney (Morgan Whitlock), Jack Hedley (Bill Lanier), Jill Dixon (Tracy Lanier), David Weston (Todd Lanier), Diane Clare (Amy Whitlock), Yvette Rees (Vanessa Whitlock), Marie Ney (Malvina Lanier), Viola Keats (Helen Lanier), Victor Brooks (Inspector Baldwin), Barry Linehan (Myles Forrester); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Robert Lippert/Jack Parsons; Twentieth Century–Fox; 1964-UK)

“A better than average horror film about Satanists.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A better than average horror film about Satanists directed with inventiveness by the Tasmanian born Dan Sharp (“Hennessy”/”The Face of Fu Manchu”/”The Kiss of the Vampire”). The low-budget and not too often seen horror programmer (appears on TV from time to time) was skillfully written by Harry Spalding.

The Lanier family, living on a country estate some twenty miles outside of London, during the 17th century persecuted their neighbors, the Whitlocks, for being Satanists. They went as far as having Vanessa Whitlock (Yvette Rees) buried alive in the cemetery as a witch. The same families still exist on the same territory, but the Laniers took over most of the Whitlock land and the Whitlock clan under its stern elderly patriarch Morgan Whitlock (Lon Chaney) has sworn revenge. When Bill Lanier (Jack Hedley) and his crass business partner Myles Forrester (Barry Linehan) are putting in a sewage treatment system, they plow up the local cemetery and thereby release the spirit of Vanessa from 300-hundred years ago.

With that a number of fatal or near fatal accidents occur, with some members of the Lanier family like Aunt Helen (Viola Keats) and Bill’s reclusive widowed granny (Marie Ney) swearing they see the ghost of Vanessa. The inspector (Victor Brooks) investigating the fatalities discovers a witch’s charm pinned in the vicinity of the victims.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

The busy story gets distracted with a forbidden romance developing between Amy Whitlock (Diane Clare), whose uncle is Morgan, and Bill’s brother Todd (David Weston). It gets back on track as it leads to the tense climax that has Morgan conducting a Satanist mass in an underground tunnel chapel and planning to sacrifice Bill’s recent bride Tracy (Jill Dixon) to the Devil. But the tables turn on the Whitlock clan and their family goes up in flames when Amy pours burning oil over Vanessa and thereby ends the 300-year curse.

The black-and-white film makes good use of the standard Satanist plot and overcomes some subpar acting by various members of the cast. Chaney has a small part but delivers a lively menacing performance. For a film without too many surprises, its story is surprisingly gripping.

Witchcraft Poster

REVIEWED ON 5/3/2009 GRADE: B    https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/