Here I find myself in Salem Massachusetts so time for a witching good time with Lon Chaney Jr.
This British made thriller features an elderly Lon as the statesman for the Whitlock family. Long thought to be a family involved in witchcraft and evil doings. For over 300 years the Whitlocks have been rivals to the Lanier family. Centuries back the Lanier family accused Vanessa Whitlock of being a witch leading to her burning at the stake and their claiming the wealth of the land.
In the present day the Lanier`s are land developers and have arranged to level an ancient cemetery that just happens to have the Whitlock family plots and crypts. Jack Hedley stars here as the land developer in charge of overseeing the project running straight into the imposing figure of Lon Chaney.
Adding to the family quarrels is a Romeo and Juliet addition to the plot. Hedley`s younger brother David Weston is in love with Lon’s niece Diane Clare. This only adds to setting our horror icon’s blood pressure rising.
When the grave of Vanessa Whitlock is cracked open by a bulldozer she rises from the dead to seek justice against the Lanier family. Actress Yvette Rees plays this menacing part but one can’t help but think of this as a knock off on the Barbara Steele roles of the day including the now classic Black Sunday.
Witch’s charms and Devil Dolls are soon at work when more than one death occurs at the hands of our risen witch. Meanwhile Lon is leading a coven of 13 witches or members of the Whitlock family to rise up and rid the world of their sworn enemies, the Laniers. Will his young niece become a party to the black masses that Lon resides over or will true love break her free and lead to a peaceable ending with her young beau?
This is a pleasant way to burn up eighty minutes on a dark night. It’s a black and white chiller that doesn’t pretend to be a classic Mario Bava thriller but it is fun and a nice entry in both Lon’s later career and an early one for the director Don Sharp. Sharp would find a home in the horror genre and direct a few Hammer titles during this period as well including Kiss of the Vampire and the Christopher Lee Rasputin title.
At the time of this films production, Lon was well past his prime and turning up regularly in low budget westerns and a few lower than low budget horror titles including another witch flick House of the Black Death. I thought this role gave him some good scenes and top billing doesn’t hurt either.
Overall this is a better than average thriller of the day with a horror icon to add that little extra bit of flavor for the horror buffs. Me included. After all, we can never get enough footage of the stars from the glory days of the Universal and Hammer eras of fantasy films.
This title turned up wonderfully on the cover of a Famous Monsters of Filmland issue with Lon in his Warlock outfit and a few years back was released by Fox as part of their Midnight Movies collection.