Mark of the Witch (1970)
Utilizing the all too familiar plot device of putting a witch to death during the days of the Salem witch trials. the accused stands before her executioners laying a curse upon them and all their descendants in the generations to come as she awaits the hangman’s noose. Think of Black Sunday without the mask full of spikes and no Barbara Steele to accompany this drive in special of the low budget category.
Low budget? Drive-in fodder? Witches? Nary a recognizable name or face in the cast and credits? Count me in!
Filmed in Texas by director Tom Moore (Return to Boggy Creek), our tale of witches and demonic possession will take up in the present day once our witch played by Marie Santell is left swinging in the wind in the opening frame. Our story will unfold at a college where Robert Elston is teaching a course on history. No need to blink as our modern day Elston is indeed the same Elston who put our witch to do death which makes our current edition of Elston a marked man.
Elston is currently engaged with his students in the study of witchcraft. One that will see his star pupil Anitra Walsh discovering an ancient text at a book sale. It looks authentic and has plenty of spells including one which will supposedly summon a witch’s spirit. Why not call the gang together and have some kicks. By gang I mean all the guys and gals signed on for the course. Many of which have their mind set on one thing and it’s not witchcraft but members of the opposite sex. Let’s not forget this is drive-in exploitation fare catering to the weekend crowd of teenagers with a little jingle in their pockets.
Time to put away the Taro cards and the Ouija Board and get out the candle sticks and form a circle as Miss Walsh begins to read the incantation within the ancient book to see if there really is a spirit waiting to be summoned. Does anything flashy happen? Not really and the whole experiment appears to be a bust. That is until our young leading lady takes on an arrogance that doesn’t befit her and when the party clears out she hangs back to reveal her newfound identity to the somewhat doomed Professor Esltron.
Turns out Esltron’s ancestor had betrayed the witch of old and he himself was in league with the Devil. Our updated version of Elstron might not be so easy to take revenge upon but that won’t stop the student from seducing the Prof. with a flash of boobs that have the distinct look of a body double. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers at a 1970 drive-in. Elstron is going to need help in saving the real Miss Walsh whose body now plays host to the evil witch. He’ll take on the help of the young girl’s love interest, Daryl Wells, to help him battle the witch and save the young girl’s soul.
A script with this kind of subject matter is going to need some bodies and they’re kindly provided by some of the student “body.” This is going to complicate saving Miss Walsh from the evil witch’s power. If she’s identified by the police she’ll be sentenced to a long prison sentence for something she’s had no control over. Thankfully Elstron and Wells may have found the key to solving the spells and incantations of the ancient text.
“From innocent parlor games to deadly midnight rituals.”
Love those one liners thrown at us from the screen when the coming attraction trailers play before the main feature. Without a doubt had I been of age in 1970 I’d have been going to a local drive-in to see this one with a gang of horror fans or if I had my own car maybe even the gal of my choosing. Alas, I kind of missed out on the drive-in era as teenager. They were pretty much gone by the time I owned a car and the films they did play on weekends had morphed into the big box office hits of the week vs. the low budget fare that one could count on seeing up until the studios turned the summer blockbusters loose on an annual basis. Having said that I still do have a pair of drive-in memories from long ago, One was seeing Grizzly in 1976 with the family and the other was sneaking in to see Death Wish 2 doubled up with Zombie alongside a pair of underage pals in the back of a van in 1982.
On Mark of the Witch, most of the cast quickly faded into obscurity with barely any credits to their names beyond the obvious over at the IMDB. This being the case with our witch Miss Santell. Elson was easily the best actor of the shoot and did appear sporadically on camera over the next couple of decades while one of our victims, Barbara Brownell, went on to do a number of television shows into the next century after getting her start here.
If you do get the opportunity to see this tale of witchcraft that might have been better served as a Kolchak episode, have a look at the young leading man, Darryl Wells. Is he not a Michael York lookalike minus the polished voice and delivery? He may not have found a career in the movies but if had any ambition to be a stuntman he could have doubled for York on the many action films he was to embark on in the 1970’s.
If this one peaks your interest in low budget horror specials, you can find it over at youtube or maybe pick up a copy of the blu ray numbered 84 from Code Red Releasing. Now how about that trailer to wet your appetite.