Fans of badly-made, no-budget 70s homegrown horrors are going to want to get their paws on this double-feature release from Retromedia Entertainment. The rarely-seen MARK OF THE WITCH has been paired with THE BRIDES WORE BLOOD, which was previously available at stand-alone issue. Both films are similar in that they were shot independently, miles away from Hollywood and the studio system, and it shows in nearly every frame (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).
Shot in Texas and released in 1970, MARK OF THE WITCH starts with tightly shot 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 over-hammy antics) is hung before she can rant and rave in what resembles a dime-store recreation of the BLACK SUNDAY opening. After that, we are treated to an absurd hymn (sung by Trella Hart and written by the lead actress) which is performed over the credits.
In the modern setting, Professor Mac Stuart (Robert Elston) is brainy teacher at a hip university. One of his cute and innocent students, Jill (Anitra Walsh) picks up an ancient “red book” at a book fair, and later brings it to the happening 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 incarnation 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 parlor trick that convinces her boyfriend Alan (Darryl Wells). 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 sacraficial manner. Mac and Alan are at her mercy, but they spend the hours trying to defeat her for a climatic showdown against good and 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 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 in 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.
Retromedia’s transfer of MARK OF THE WITCH is culled from a well-worn 35mm print. Letterboxed to approximately 1.66:1, the image is sharp and has good detail and decent colors. But the ravages of time reveal some ugly emulsion scratches and other speckling that gets nasty during reel changes (a few frames from one segment are misplaced at a later time in the film), and there a jumps of dialog during some bad splices. The mono audio is fine, with occasional background noise and scratchiness. The trailer is not included here (if you want to see it, get a hold of Ban 1 Productions' excellent “42nd Street Forever” DVD), but fans of Brinke Stevens will be delighted at an extra that contains over 8 minutes of unused footage of the cult actress, nudity and all! The footage (for an uncompleted project called "The Coven") was shot by director and Retromedia head Fred Olen Ray, who also does a nice commentary to accompany it.
On the flip side of the disc is BRIDES OF BLOOD, which as I mentioned was previously available on its own disc from Retromedia. Shot in 16mm in Jacksonville, Florida, late director Bob Favorite proves that he can make a vampire film that stinks worse than Staten Island -- ahhhh, I mean stinks worse than Andy Milligan's vampire films, not the actual Staten Island. This rarely-seen effort tells the story of a pretty young blond who moves to Florida after a psychic tells her to go there to start a new life (I only wish it was that easy, I'd be on a plane tomorrow). She runs into an old man who invites her and three other young girls on a free tour of his ancestral mansion. The next day, the girls are invited to come back and meet his unattached nephew, whom he wants to marry off.
Turns out that the nephew is a vampire, and the screen's dullest one at that (picture Don "American Pie" McLean wearing a cape in 1972). One girl is turned into a vampire with exaggerated dime store fangs, and she must of learned how to act like one by watching "The Groovy Ghoulies" Saturday morning cartoon show. Another girl (a stuck-up photographer) is drained of blood in a gratuitous "needle" scene, and after her useless boyfriend tries to save her, they're both killed by a hideous guy who looks like half of the two-headed monster in THE MAGIC SWORD.
The blond girl is chosen as the bride and to continue the family bloodline, and she is kept prisoner by an idiot (hunchback?) with a mid-60s "British Invasion" hairdo. The vampire is killed by sunlight in a lame attempt to recreate Hammer's remarkable Dracula climaxes. Actually, the vampire's death scene resembles a ten-year-old's Super 8 remake of the end of HORROR OF DRACULA. Amateurish in every way, THE BRIDES WORE BLOOD is badly shot and terribly acted, and the Florida background feels totally inappropriate here.
Retromedia has rescued this baby from almost total obscurity (unless you count the out-of-print Regal tape). Considering that this was shot in 16mm, the film source is remarkably well preserved, making for a pleasing DVD transfer. Colors sometimes look muted, and there is a fair share of grain evident, but this is due to the film's low-rent production values. The mono sound is perfectly acceptable. No trailer for the film is included (I doubt one exists), but it's introduced by Ohio TV horror host Son of Ghoul. See the Ghoul teach his dwarf friend about hygiene by shoving red toothpaste and green mouthwash down his throat! (George R. Reis)
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