Now why on earth was I previously so dismissive of these two charmingly big-breasted women? Redemption has released Virgin Witch, the 1972 U.K. sorta soft-core porn horror flick from notably tacky Tigon British Film Productions, starring sisters Ann and Vicki Michelle, Patricia Haines, Keith Buckley, James Chase, and Neil Hallett. I unfavorably reviewed Virgin Witch almost six years ago; however, with the aid of this super-clean new HD transfer from Redemption, I found myself quite enjoying Virgin Witch's slimy, sleazy atmosphere―whatever was I thinking back in 2006? The same tiny extras ported over from the 2006 Image release won't help, but this new transfer is reason enough for fans to double-dip.
Sexy sisters Christine and Betty (Ann Michelle, of Psychomania and The House of Whipcord fame, and 'Allo 'Allo!'s Vicki Michelle) are headed towards London when they're picked up by sharpie Johnny (Keith Buckley). Older, more, uh...ahem..."experienced" Christine, we learn, wants to be a model, but she ignores Johnny's advice about avoiding backstreet photographers and answers an ad for modeling agent Sybil Waite (Patricia Haynes)―an ad that came to Christine through an unexpected, but not unwelcome, moment of ESP. At Waite's spooky office, Christine is compelled by chops-licking Waite to remove her clothes to "measure her for the records (for the record, she's stacked); however, Sybil has other plans for Christine that don't include modeling. Faking a phone call from a photographer, Sybil tells Christine that she's in a bind to find a model on short notice who will spend the weekend at a country estate, shooting a liquor ad. Christine readily accepts, and brings along her sister Betty for protection. But from the start of the weekend, it appears that Christine doesn't need any protection; she willingly removes her clothes for the photo shoot (and subsequently teases the nervous photographer Peter, played by James Chase, into a heavy petting party), and acts as if she's always belonged at the "Wychwold" estate. At the same time, virgin sister Betty is exploring the mansion, when she stumbles across a ceremonial room for witches. Wychwold owner and silver fox Dr. Amberly (Neil Hallett) freely admits that they're a coven of witches, but that they only practice white witchcraft―never Satanism. But does Sybil know that?
Remind me again why I didn't like this almost six years ago? Quite honestly, I had completely forgotten that I had reviewed this U.K. sex/horror/occult title when I first started here at DVDTalk (that's probably what happened: trying too hard...), so when everything started to look familiar again, I went back to my review...and wondered what the hell happened to me that day to make me write such a dismissive piece. Now, don't get me wrong: Virgin Witch is still a bit of a mess. All the story problems that bugged me before are still there. This time I did pick up more strongly on the silent battle that Sybil was obviously waging with Gerald for supremacy as High Priest, and her desire to bring the "High One" into physical manifestation through the real sacrifice of a virgin (as opposed to Gerald's frankly more satisfying way: simulate the stabbing before nailing some gorgeous girl on the altar). However, a lot of the storyline was still fuzzy and obscure (that opening montage needs to be better explained―is that girl getting sacrificed an example of Sybil's way of doing things? Did Sybil get out control, and that's why Gerald is on her case about keeping the coven "clean" with white witchcraft?). And the tension that should be critical to the two girls in the house, innocent prey to the coven, is almost nil, given that Christine immediately calls Wychwold home, and dim bulb Betty hasn't a clue as to what is going on around her (what Virgin Witch really needs is more threat).
But frankly...who the hell cares how well Virgin Witch is put together...when the girls are put together so well? Something about Virgin Witch must have ticked me off back when I wrote that review, but to be honest, I can't connect up with those feelings when I re-read that piece, because Virgin Witch today, with all its stupid excesses and shoddy construction, works for me...somehow. As movie lovers, we've all experienced revisiting a childhood favorite that fell short of our memories years later, and certainly the opposite can happen, as well. And I suppose one shouldn't discount one's own mood, either, when reviewing a film. Despite what some readers might think, there is no such thing as a completely objective, "scientific" movie review; a whole lot of factors go into how that piece eventually turns out...with some of them having nothing to do with the movie itself (remind me sometime to tell you what Roger Ebert would do with a movie when he didn't have his three buckets of popcorn, four orders of nachos, 6 Butterfingers®, and a small Diet Coke® right by his side). If I can't connect to my blasé dismissal of Virgin Witch five years ago, I can't really say why today's experience with it was different...I can only describe what I liked about it now.
And a lot of that would be the nudity. Now of course I liked that element back then, too, but somehow, the absolutely gratuitous, over-the-top nature of it here caught me as extremely funny this time around, with director Ray Austin (tons of U.K. and American television, like The Avengers, The Saint, Barnaby Jones, Vega$) not hesitating to go full frontal, while getting the stacked Michelle sisters to strip without even the slightest hint of embarrassment on their parts (that always ruins it in other pics). When Austin starts using a silly iris optical to simulate the photographer's camera shuttering on the sexy Ann Michelle, Virgin Witch begins to feel like a nudie cutie, with an invitation to the audience to salaciously leer at such a good-looking woman suddenly becoming far more important than creating suspense, or a sense of impending doom, or simmering horror, or any of the other things that Austin should have been trying to create for the movie. Too many of these U.K. witchcraft movies from this time period like to suggest the sensual, deviant aspects of Satanism, without ever daring to show what's what. But by 1971, Austin and screenwriter Beryl Vertue (of Britain's family soap opera, Crossroads, no less!) had the leeway to go much further, and to its credit, Virgin Witch at least gets across that atmosphere of pagan, carnal lust that should underpin such a story, with everyone dropping trou the minute a bonfire is lit and the ceremonial "High One" mask is brought out (for the record, Michael Caine's ex-wife, Patricia Haines, is no slouch in the nudity department, either).
As for the rest of Virgin Witch...it's just not very scary, or horrifying, with an ending that still doesn't make a whole lot of sense (so Johnny didn't nail Betty on the altar, simulating it instead so he could save her from the coven...only to carry her about ten yards away from the "danger" so he could really do it this time?). But then again...who cares about all that ineptitude, when the delectable Michelle sisters strip down to the buff? With this new, improved transfer, one can enjoy cinematographer Gerald Moss' (Village of the Damned) pulpy, comic-book style lighting (he uses reds and greens like a Batman episode), while some of the performances are amusing to watch, such as Haines' sultry, sapphic, all-female prison warden Sybil, or Neill Hallet's "Mr. Smooth" turn as the cultured, horny High Priest of the coven (is it me, or does he sound an awful lot like Jack Hawkins?). No one was more surprised than me that Virgin Witch caught me in just the right mood, at just the right time, six years later: what played like boring junk then...somehow, someway, came over as quite amusing and sexy this go-around...but don't hold me to that six years from now.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.