Monday, May 13, 2013

The Witches Of Southwest

Through no conscious effort of my own, I found myself in the thrall of public domain witches last night.

It was very hot in the San Fernando Valley this weekend, and my best time-killing option was staying home, in shorts, with the AC on watching Roku. In fact, once I got Tender Mercies out of the way (great movie but kind of a homework assignment for a show I'm doing next month) I narrowed down to Pub-D-Hub, a Roku channel which features things for which the copyright has expired. I like PDB because I'm a nostalgia hound and because they only ask a dollar a year for subscription fees, which is reasonable considering that they aren't paying for content.

Anyway the first title that caught my eye: The Naked Witch. Now and then a favorite DJ of mine plays the lurid radio commercial for this movie. They had me at "naked"! It was shot in 1960 as the very first feature of  Larry Buchanan, which means it lacks the sophistication and polish and Buchanan later applied to Zontar: Thing From Venus and Mars Needs Women. It is the story of a grad student who travels to a small Texas town to study witch legends for his thesis. He finds the grave of a famous local witch who was buried a hundred years before, digs her up (with his hands!) and removes a stake from the heart of the corpse. The naked witch rises, walks away, and starts a campaign of killing the descendants of the man who had her staked. There are only 3, because the whole movie is less than an hour. The student manages to re-stake her, and she is buried again.

A bad movie fan needs, as the best arrow in his quiver, patience. It's how I can say this is entertaining even though it's literally 20 minutes of story, shoehorned into 59 minutes of movie. Really, the first 20 minutes is a lecture on witchcraft, shots of a convertible driving the empty highway, and "fascinating" local color explaining why there are little Germanic towns in Texas. For a witch, she isn't particularly supernatural. She's more like a zombie serial killer. I recall she kills one guy with a knife, and other with a rock. On the other hand you actually get a few glimpses of  actual sexy witch nudity, which could explain why Larry Buchanan kept working steadily.

After that hour, and as a way of avoiding Columbo reruns, I dug around a little and found an NBC Matinee Theatre kinescope of Dark Of The Moon. The hook for me was the leads, Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott. They had also both starred in my favorite underrated 50's alien gem,  I Married A Monster From Outer Space and both are eerily, unnaturally good-looking. As I watched, some of the dialog seemed familiar to me and I realized we had put the play on in High School.

The Golden Age of Television
Told in an extremely thick Appalachian patois, Dark Of the Moon is the story of a Witch Boy (Tryon) who wishes to be made human so he can marry Gloria Talbott. The head crone (?) grants his wish, but only if Talbott can remain faithful (and not even kiss someone else) for a full year. Meanwhile, Witch-Boy is tormented by appearances of his cackling witch colleagues, who taunt him and say he's doomed to failure. Eventually the townfolk realize he'all is on o' them witches! and forcibly kiss Talbott, forcing him to return to his hellish lair.

It was just a very weirdly staged hour of TV. Weird music, weird overacting all around, punctuated with random screeching eagle noises. Still a unique experience. I can't call this bad. I'd say good AND off-putting. Still Talbott looked better in the movie. She deserved good lenses.Tom Tryon went on to become a best-selling novelist, which is surprising. It'd be like if Arnold Schwarzenegger had become governor of California.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of these two movies is that neither one of them, in any way, prefigured the TV series Bewitched. I can only shrug.

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