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  Witchmaker, The Swamp Satan
Year: 1969
Director: William O. Brown
Stars: Anthony Eisley, Thordis Brandt, Alvy Moore, John Lodge, Shelby Grant, Tony Benson, Robin Millan, Warrene Ott, Helene Winston, Burt Mustin, Rudy Haydel, Teska Moreau, Kathy Lynn, Sue Bernard, Howard Viet, Nancy Crawford, Patricia Wymer
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: A young woman is bathing in the swamp in her underwear, like you do, and when she has finished swimming around she emerges to put the rest of her clothes back on, but all of a sudden a hulking brute appears and clonks her over the head, killing her. This is Luther the Berserk (John Lodge), and he is a dedicated Satanist who has been murdering women for the past while, stripping them, painting them with an arcane symbol and hanging them upside down safe in the knowledge he will never be caught as the region he hunts in is so remote. But someone may stop him in his tracks, a doctor, Ralph Hayes (Alvy Moore), who has taken a small party to the swamps to find out more...

If you have seen the documentary American Movie, you will know about one of the most meme-qualifying elements, when its subject, would-be horror film director Mark Borchardt, announces that his magnum opus will be a chiller entitled Coven. The trouble is, he does not pronounce that title in the conventional manner, but instead calls it Coe-ven, rather than to rhyme with oven. This has led him to be the butt of many derisive gags down the years since - he can't even say the name of his own movie right! etc - but what nobody considered was that perhaps he had seen and enjoyed The Witchmaker, where "coven" is pronounced "coe-ven" throughout. The more you know, and all that.

Anyway, that is by the by, for what we had was a film produced a little too early, as evinced by its attitude to nudity. Among its cast were female performers who had not been averse to doffing their togs for the camera, but in a loss of nerve here were asked to show nothing but a bare back, or if they were going topless there would be a well-placed branch or goblet to spare their blushes and ensure the audience saw absolutely no nipples. As censorship slackened around 1970, if they had bided their time, they would have had a more commercial prospect with the nudity uncovered, but here we were offered the curiously coy sight of a horror movie that dated within months.

Some saw its Satanic influence as Rosemary's Baby, and that blockbuster assuredly set the scene for the horror genre for decades to come, especially in Godfearing (and devil-fearing) hits like The Exorcist or The Omen. Yet The Witchmaker seemed to be more a cross between The Devil Rides Out and The Haunting, with its team of experts congregating to banish the evil in the swamps for good, though a strong hint of what was to come was the ending, which did not necessarily conclude in the manner that you would anticipate. As an independent effort, it once more begged the question about why so many indie genre pics headed off to the middle of nowhere (a swamp, a forest) to play out their plotlines, to which the answer was presumably so they did not have to build any sets beforehand.

The brains of this outfit were two actors, Alvy Moore and L.Q. Jones, established performers in their own right, they wanted to branch out into production, and with their most celebrated film A Boy and His Dog, direction too. But this was before they had found their feet, with the result that it came across like a Star Trek episode, you know, the ones where they were trying to depict decadence which basically meant lots of drinking out of the aforementioned goblets, and belly dancing (in this case courtesy of nude pin-up Diane Webber, here with her clothes on). As you can imagine, this certainly isn't scary, even with Luther manhandling all and sundry, and it looked like what it was, a bunch of slightly embarrassed actors who were glad of the work. Anthony Eisley was our ostensible lead, the William Shatner if you like, adding to his list of exploitation roles away from his television appearances, but this was strictly for those who did not mind the slow pace of a vintage, Satan-obsessed production stretching out thin material to snapping point. Music by Jaime Mendoza-Nava.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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