The Witches (US: The Devil’s Own) is a 1966 British horror film made by Hammer Films. It was adapted by Nigel Kneale from the novel The Devil’s Own by Norah Lofts
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, under the pseudonym Peter Curtis. It was directed by Cyril Frankel and starred Joan Fontaine (in her final feature-film performance), Alec McCowen
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, Kay Walsh, Ann Bell, Ingrid Boulting (billed as Ingrid Brett), Gwen Ffrangcon Davies and Rudolph Walker. This was the final big-screen film role for Fontaine.
A British schoolteacher, Gwen (Joan Fontaine), travels to Africa to work as a missionary. She has a nervous breakdown after being exposed to witchcraft during a rebellion led by witch doctors. Returning to England to recover, she is hired by wealthy siblings Alan and Stephanie Bax (Alec McCowen and Kay Walsh) to become head teacher of the small private school in their rural village.
Gwen soon detects a sinister undercurrent beneath the pleasantries of the village life, starting with Alan’s admission that he is not really a priest. Soon more suspicious events occur, including the reappearance of a missing doll without its head.
She also becomes suspicious of the way the villagers are treating Linda Rigg
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, a 14-year-old girl (Ingrid Boulting). Her investigations point to witchcraft.
The village of Hambleden, Buckinghamshire
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, was the filming location for the fictional village of Heddaby. Interiors were filmed at Hammer’s usual studio at Bray in the same year the famous horror film company vacated their home altogether for (mainly) Elstree and Pinewood. The cast featured child-actor Martin Stephens, then 17. The supporting cast also included Hammer regular Duncan Lamont, as well as John Collin, Michele Dotrice, Leonard Rossiter and Bryan Marshall. The score was by Richard Rodney Bennett.
In a later magazine interview Nigel Kneale said he was dissatisfied with the way the film had turned out. Personally he found modern black magic practitioners to be fairly risible and he had intended to poke fun at the idea of an English coven. His blackly comic touches were removed by the production team, who wanted the film to be entirely serious.
Variety called the film “routine entertainment”. The Hammer Story: The Authorised Biography of Hammer Films called the film “unsettling, though compromised by a hysterical climax”, writing, “when The Witches strikes the right balance it ultimately succeeds as an engrossing thriller, even if it ultimately disappoints as Hammer horror.”
As of 2013
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, The Witches currently holds a three star rating (5.8/10) on IMDb and 40% maximum approval on Rotten Tomatoes.