14 Days ’til Halloween, 2014: La Strega In Amore aka The Witch (1966) and Savage Weekend (1979)

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Today is all about eroticism…of the darker kind.

THE WITCH is a strange mix of Italian Gothic horror, early Antonioni, and a hyper-sexualized WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (or perhaps THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS). The simmering eroticism (yep, I wrote “simmering eroticism”) is so tense you could cut it with a…well, it probably shouldn’t be cut as this stuff should be taken pure. To quote the hundred year old libertine woman who sets the movie into motion, “So what if I do take drugs? If it gives an old woman pleasure, why not?” She’s a fan of stimulation, that old lady, and the events of this movie provide it in spades. It’s mostly mental and emotional, mind you, rather than explicit (though there’s a wonderful scene in which a man is ordered to make love to a woman without using his hands), but it is all the more arousing for being so restrained. I was actually talking to my TV screen, offering directive, urgent, encouragement to the characters like some paternalistic dom, during one strangely homoerotic and sacrilegious “confession” scene. And did I mention that it’s also a horror movie? Screw you FIFTY SHADES OF GREY…

THE WITCH is hard to find. It’s only been released in the states on video, as far as I know, and that was a long time ago. The version I’m linking to here is likely the best you’ll find. That might change any moment – or maybe I missed a remastered rerelease…let’s hope so. It deserves it. In the mean time, this will do it for you if given a chance…

My instinct is to avoid an unfamiliar movie with a title like SAVAGE WEEKEND. The title has the reek of a LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT / I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE derivative rape revenge movie…and I’ve seen enough of those. Nope. SAVAGE WEEKEND is a strange and sleazy slasher that manages to be disturbing but also erotically compelling. Imagine a more explicit version of Woody Allen’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY but without the comedy and with a lot of the sexuality channeled into violent or perverse imagery. Phallic weapons in this slasher are really, REALLY phallic. The movie begins with what is essentially an erotic fantasy involving a chainsaw, for example, and a woman in peril running through the woods to the strumming of a Bolero-esque folk guitar solo. All in all, in spite of the simplistic misogynistic intentions usually ascribed to the creators of these kinds of cinematic scenarios, I think this movie has something a bit more sophisticated to say about sexuality, violence, and the physical/emotional collision of volatile human beings. The surprisingly sensitive and unsentimental depiction of a stereotypically effeminate gay character is just one sign that the makers of SAVAGE WEEKEND weren’t just out to appeal to the masses. The “voyeuristic pervert in the woods,” a staple of slashers as well as eurosleaze sexploitation, is also handled empathetically and entirely contrary to cliche. That character is extremely well acted, above and beyond the call of duty required by an exploitation film, by the guy who played Larry on the tv show “Newhart” (the one who was always introducing his brothers to everyone). I always thought Larry was kind of cute. Anyway, putting aside the underlying intelligence of this movie and my strange fixation on Larry, his brother Daryl, and his other brother Daryl, SAVAGE WEEKEND is a competently made and stylistically eccentric slasher worth a very long, hard, and lingering look.

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