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The Witch Who Came from the Sea
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Widescreen
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Audio commentary with director Matt Cimber, actress Millie Perkins and director of photography Dean Cundey
  • Brand new interview with director Matt Cimber
  • Brand new interview with Dean Cundey
  • Brand new interview with actor John Goff

The Witch Who Came from the Sea

Dual-Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Matt Cimber
1987 | 98 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $99.95 | Series: Arrow Video
MVD Visual

Release Date: February 23, 2016
Review Date: April 14, 2016

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SYNOPSIS

Representing something of an anomaly in the career of director Matt Cimber (whose other credits include such Blaxploitation fare as The Candy Tangerine Man) The Witch Who Came from the Sea is an unnerving journey into madness and murder starring Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank).

Molly (Perkins) experiences violent fantasies in which she ties muscular men up before bloodily dispatching them with a razor. But when a news report announces the shocking double-murder of two football players which strongly echoes one of Molly’s most recent depraved flights of fancy, the fantasy starts to bleed into reality—literally.

Written by Perkins’ late husband Robert Thom (Death Race 2000), The Witch Who Came from the Sea features early cinematography from SOP Dean Cundey, who would go on to expand his genre credentials with his work on Escape from New York and The Thing, before achieving mainstream exposure with the likes of Jurassic Park and Apollo 13.


PICTURE

The second exclusive title to Arrow’s first volume of their American Horror Project, The Witch Who Came From the Sea, comes to Blu-ray in a new dual-format edition, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1. The Blu-ray presents the film in 1080p/24hz on a dual-layer disc, while the DVD presents the film, enhanced for widescreen televisions, on the second dual-layer disc.

After Arrow’s presentation of the first film in the set, Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, I had certain expectations admittedly set. Yes, that film still looks a teeny-bit rough, but considering its production history and that the film is most likely to have been sitting in the back of someone’s shed behind cans of hardened paint, wreaking of a mix of gas and oil from the 2-cycle lawnmower that sat next to it for three decades, and less likely to have been sitting in a film preservationist’s temperature controlled storage facility for three decades, it really should have looked much, much worse. Imagine my surprise when I found this film—which is the more professionally done of the two and has benefitted from being more well-known thanks to the “Video Nasties” controversy—to actually look quite a bit worse!

Okay, the exclamation point that ends that preceding paragraph is probably unwarranted, making it appear to be a bigger deal than it actually is, but I was genuinely surprised how rough this film looks. In actuality, it sounds as though this film was actually sitting in a shed for years, and according to director Matt Cimber on one of the new interviews found on this edition, the best elements for the film are lost (due to a nasty divorce by the sounds of it) and Arrow was only able to track down elements held at the UCLA Film Archive, which, obviously, aren’t in the best condition. I am unsure how much restoration, if any, has gone into the film because for a majority of its running time the print looks pretty good, despite the consistent appearances of dirt and debris. But during what appears to be the tail end of each reel, scratches and dirt litter the screen heavily. We then get a very obvious cut and splice when we go to the new reel, where the image then stabilizes. There are also a few rather large splices, tears, and stains scattered about, with one the worst ones coming up at around the 15-minute point, and then other rather large ones popping up in places. Colours fluctuate and pulsating is also evident. Again, I’m not sure how much restoration was actually done, but in all honesty, I don’t think all of these issues could have been fixed anyways.

Though the print may be in bad shape the digital transfer itself is thankfully very good, Arrow, as usual, not disappointing here. Getting past the source issues the transfer itself is stable, delivers a naturally moving image and we still get film grain, which is cleanly rendered. Detail is actually very good for the most part, and I was impressed how film-like this looks. Yes, it looks like a film that has been through the ringer, but a film no less. The colours do fluctuate, as mentioned, but on the whole they’re still fairly muted and drab, and black levels are okay, but crushing can be a bit of a problem in many of the low lit sequences.

The DVD’s presentation is noticeably weaker. I’m sure some filtering has been applied to help manage the film’s grain structure, something that would look messier on the format, but for whatever reason the image is noticeably less sharp, though again, could just be the format. Still, for what it is, I think the standard-definition presentation holds up rather well.

The film is, ultimately, in surprisingly poor shape, maybe looking the worst out of the three films in the set, but thankfully Arrow still delivers their usual high quality encode, and the end result is certainly watchable because of that.

6/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film’s soundtrack, presented in lossless linear PCM 1.0 mono on the Blu-ray, and Dolby Digital 1.0 mono on the DVD, is also a bit of mess, again a surprise considering Malatesta doesn’t suffer from the same problems, or at least to the same extent. There’s an audible hiss throughout most of the film’s running time, along with a crackle, and the audio is also littered with pops, drops, and clicks. Music is flat and distorted, but, at the very least, dialogue is still easy to hear.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Arrow provides a few supplements for the film, starting with an audio commentary featuring director Matt Cimber, director of photography Dean Cundey, and actor Millie Perkins. What caught me off guard about the track is how awful the quality of the recording is. It doesn’t sound to have been professionally recorded, almost like it was recorded in the middle of a large room (I kept imagining a church basement throughout). It was taken from a previous release, so this is not Arrow’s work, but it’s no less irritating. Getting past that, though, it’s still a fairly week track. Throughout Perkins keeps commenting on how shocked she is that she was even in this film, but she sprinkles around how the script (written by her former husband, Robert Thom) came to be and shares some of the background to its influences (some of which are, unsurprisingly, rather crazy). Cimber and Cundey talk about shooting and developing, sharing a few humourous stories, and Cimber talks about dealing with the MPAA. Some of the comments are fine, but the more interesting aspects of the track can be found laced throughout the rest of the supplements available on the disc. There are quite a few dead spots and the technical quality of the track is too irritating, making it a bit obnoxious to listen to.

Admittedly the commentary has a few stories and recollections not found elsewhere but I would still stick with the rest of the material on here, which I feel offers a far better experience. First Arrow presents a new making-of, Tides and Nightmares, featuring interviews with Cimber, Cundey, Perkins, and actor John Goff (who plays the father in the flashbacks). It does cover some of the same ground on the production that the commentary does, though I found it much more engaging here. In the commentary I’m not really sure how Perkins felt about the film (I’m leaning towards that she strongly disliked it), though here she seems more accepting of it, but does share how ashamed she was of it, admitting she did it for the money and thought of it, at the time, as softcore porn. Cimber and Cundey talk again about how they wanted to make this a “legitimate” movie, having Perkins in it being a big step towards that, as was shooting it in scope. There are more stories about the MPAA and its release, being promoted as a horror film rather than the character study/psychological thriller it actually was. Goff’s input proves most fascinating, as he recalls shooting his disturbing scenes. Nicely put together and far more engaging than the commentary while running a good 23-minutes.

Accompanying that is an older making-of, A Maiden’s Voyage, which looks to have been made for an older DVD edition. This 36-minute feature again goes over the script and production from start to finish, covering some familiar ground while adding some new information. I did wonder, at first, why Arrow bothered to include it since they made their own, but both Cimber and Cundey (who both appear again, along with Perkins) get more technical here, talking a bit more about budget limitations and what it was like making an independent film at the time, both talking about some of their other work as well. Perkins, who at this point probably still didn’t think too highly of the film, does have a sense of humour at least, and she talks a bit about taking her then-boyfriend, Jack Nicholson, to the premiere, which she mentions in the commentary (she doesn’t recall what Nicholson thought of the film but Cimber seems to recall in another interview that he thought the film was “off the wall”). It also has a somewhat odd (and amusing) tirade from Perkins about drug culture at the time. Yes, some material found here is covered elsewhere, but it’s still worth watching.

Arrow then provides a new 4-minute solo interview with director Matt Cimber, who reflects back on the film and why he thinks it has developed a bit of an audience over the years. He also comments on losing the original film materials and offers his appreciation to Arrow on the job that they were able to do in presenting it here.

No booklet is included with the title, though the box set itself comes with a thick booklet. You also have the option of watching an introduction by Stephen Thrower, who talks a bit about the purpose behind the “American Horror Project” and then offers some thoughts on the film.

The commentary isn’t very good but the rest of the material proves much better. Did the supplements win over a new fan of the film? In this case, no, but I did find the film’s production history rather fascinating and enjoyed going through these supplements.

8/10

CLOSING

Going through the “American Horror Project” box set I’m finding that I appreciate the idea behind the project more than the films themselves. The Witch Who Came from the Sea may be the better film here, but it’s not saying a lot. Still, despite whatever my thoughts on the film may be, I still have to commend Arrow on the work they have put into it. Though the film materials are in very rough condition Arrow does a superb job of encoding it at least, preserving a filmic look that remains natural throughout. The features, which admittedly didn’t sway me towards appreciating the film more, are also quite good, save for the commentary. I’d say for fans of obscure horror or fans of the film the set would be worth picking up.




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