Code Red upgrades one of their previous DVD releases with this newly restored Blu-ray of MARK OF THE WITCH, a quirky early 1970s drive-in curio.
Made in Texas in 1969 and released in 1970, MARK OF THE WITCH starts with a tightly shot (hiding budget limitations) pre-credit sequence that takes us back to a 17th Century outdoor execution. A dark-haired woman accused of witchcraft named Margery of Jourdemain (Marie Santell, who displays the expected overly-hammy antics) is hung after ranting and raving revenge in what resembles a dime-store recreation of the opening of Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY. After that, we are treated to an absurd hymn (“sung” by Trella Hart and written by the lead actress) which is performed over the opening credits.
In the modern setting, Professor Mac Stuart (John Cypher clone Robert Elston, GORP) is a brainy professor at a hip university. One of his cute and innocent students, Jill (Anitra Walsh, DEALING: OR THE BERKELEY-TO-BOSTON FORTY-BRICK LOST-BAG BLUES) picks up an ancient “red book” at a book fair, and later brings it to the happening campus party at Professor’s Mac’s pad. After distracting the young partygoers from their beer swigging and idle chit-chat, the lights are turned down, and Jill reads an incantation from said book. Nothing appears to have happened, but Jill is now possessed by witch Margery, and she later proves it to Mac by killing his dog, and later combusting his pet bird in a cheap parlor trick which convinces her gushing boyfriend Alan (Darryl Wells, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS) of her sudden change for the worst. Now in the shapely body of a sweet coed, Margery convenes her coven by doing an exotic dance in the woods, and begins to knock off some of the students in a sacrificial manner. Mac and Alan are at her mercy, but they spend the hours trying to defeat her in what leads to a climatic showdown of good against evil.
MARK OF THE WITCH is admittedly inept, but a dated, groovy attempt at the witchcraft genre that some will find amusing and fairly watchable. Though rated “GP” at the time of its release, there are a few bits of blood, but it’s mainly safe drive-in fare for the curious. Anitra Walsh (who died in 1980, only in her early 30s) is very sexy, and she pulls of the transition from naïve student to wicked witch nicely, although sometimes she comes off like a secondary character lost in a time warp on an episode of BEWITCHED. Marie Santell makes an daunting witch, even though her screen time is limited, and Robert Elston and Darryl Wells do their best at fighting evil, although their act resembles a mediocre imitation of Roger Perry’s and Michael Macready’s monster-hunting duo in the same year’s COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE. There are also some psychedelic camera effects, and the final shot reveals a twist ending. Director Tom Moore has had an excellent career in stage, movies and television. On the stage he’s directed everything from the original production of “Grease” to the 1981 flop “Frankenstein” (yes, the one that closed after a single performance). He did direct one other horror movie (RETURN TO BOGGY CREEK) but got the most acclaim for a 1986 feature (‘night, Mother) starring Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft. He’s still a busy episodic TV director to this day.
Code Red had unearthed the long-lost camera negatives for their 2009 DVD transfer, and have used the same source for this new 2k scan, and the results are pretty spectacular. The 1080p HD presentation offers the film in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with colors being rich and image detail and textures—especially during close-ups—also looking impressive. With the transfer having good grain structure and a welcomed organic filmic appearance, the image is quite clean with dirt and debris being minimal. The sound is presented in DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio and offers clear dialogue, with the early 1970s-defying electronic score by Whitey Thomas (NAIL GUN MASSACRE) having a nice clarity to it. Best yet is the fact that the camera negatives reflect a longer R-rated cut of the film (it was obviously trimmed to get that youth-friendly “GP” in 1970), so there’s some nudity on display in the form of Anitra Walsh’s lovely bare breasts. The original trailer is included. (George R. Reis)
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