Director: Piers Haggard.
Starring. Linda Hayde, Patrick Wymark, Michelle Dotrice, Wendy Padbury, Anthony Ainley, Barry Andrews, UK. 1h 40m.
There’s always something dark and demonic smouldering in the movies situated deep in the English Countryside, and it’s never so in your face as in Piers Hagards, trippy macabre masterpiece that has a lot of connection with Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General, the Wicker Man (1973) and in some ways I feel there’s an artistic nature similar to a Ken Russell the Devils (1971) albeit it in a much tamer manner.
A ploughboy stumbles on some strange remains in a field, the bones and ever staring eyeball causes the boy to start running in terror, he soon realises that his unhappy accident has unearthed the remains of an ancient demonic presence which is now free to possess his village. The first signs of danger happen in a prestigious house, where a wealthy family a host to a young girl, one that has taken the fancy of their eligible son, but due to his mother’s tough nature she’s forced into the attic, late into the night her screams wake the family, once she’s rescued her personality has completely changes, now deranged and bearing deadly sharp claws she’s taken away by the authorities and clergy.
The rest of the manifestations occur in the younger children and teens, who become strangely bohemian, slightly rapey and meet in secret in the woods, the chosen few start to display strange patches of furry skin on their bodies, all of these clear marks of possession and witchcraft start to alert the local Witchfinder who is dispatched to investigate.
Taking place in rural England where witchcraft mania was well established, the turn the village crazy operation, is pretty undercover at first, the attic incident was shushed up but the children in the village start acting strange as they playtime gets sinister, getting naked in church and accusing the priest of groping is nothing new but not expected from a star pupil and for the first acts this is the films game plan.
The film was originally set to be a three part series which was then re imagined as one condensed film which I believe was a wise decision as the movie started to break down and get repetitive even in this short run time. There’s a constant notion that something is afoot, but nothing outlandish really happens. The filmmakers become imaginative during the closing of the movie with hypnotic dancing, rituals and a beautiful slow motion showdown, something that possibly inspired the possession scene in A Field In England (2013).
It’s dark and brooding and a little bit naughty, but even after all this time it’s message of the dangers of demonic possession are still as strong as any modern horror. It takes a break from the typical movies of the era but not being too full on but remains memorable for it’s breaking down and building up of a mysticism surrounding an unknown being. Without crazy special effects and only showing the resulting mania it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what demon is involved or what it’s trying to achieve beyond being reborn, but one thing that is sure is that you don’t want to uncover this beastie in your field any time soon.
R – Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood Beast Terror (1968), the Wicker Man (1973), The Devil’s Doorway (2018)
L – Witches, Occult A-Z, Folklore Fest
A – How accurate is witchcraft portrayed in cinema