Thursday, February 20, 2020

Witching, The (1983)

... aka: Magia negra (Black Magic)
... aka: Noituus (Witchcraft)
... aka: Rosemary's Disciples
... aka: Witching

Directed by:
Bert I. Gordon

When it came time to bring his 1972 film NECROMANCY to VHS, Gordon decided it wouldn't quite be up to snuff for the exploitation-hungry home viewing audience who'd likely be renting it. After all, the original film was quite slow and bland, didn't have much violence and, even though it had a few flashes of nudity, you can never have too much nudity, amiright? So Mr. Gordon was kind enough to cut out some of the duller parts of the original, reinstate some of the nudity cut from the original PG-rated theatrical print and film brand new scenes of a more sleazy nature to splice into the works. I won't be rehashing the plot of the first film here in detail as I've already reviewed it so here I will be detailing the differences between this and the original film, starting with the fact this version runs 77 minutes, which is seven minutes shorter than Necromancy. Right off the bat you'll notice we have new credits, which just feature the original stars plus the new title (the closing credits include the newer cast and crew members). Also noticeable right away is that the original Fred Karger score has been replaced with a new synthesizer-heavy one by Rob Walsh.

We begin with five minutes of the new footage. A blonde high priestess (Anna Berglund) in a white robe is first seen making a voodoo doll with Pamela Franklin's head on it before she joins the rest of her cult of devil worshipers for a black mass. The leader, decked out in a fluffy white sheep's head, gives out orders in a deep echo voice as new initiate Jennie (Barbara Peckinpaugh) prepares to join "the family of witchcraft." She's placed in a circle containing a pentagram drawn on the floor, has her shirt opened, her breasts fondled and then rubbed with oil and is then given the voodoo doll and ordered to stab it by the high priest (Stephen Knight - The Black Room). Doing so will make Pamela's character Lori lose her baby.

As all of that's going on, male and female black sabbath members strip completely naked and do circles around the room. When Jennie refuses to stab the doll ("No! That's murder!"), another topless female cult member is given the dagger and gladly does it for her. As an added note, the character "Jennie" is mentioned in the 1972 film but all we get to see is her arm sticking out of a flaming car after it crashes and explodes.

After we briefly meet Lori and her husband Frank (Michael Ontkean), some more new footage is superimposed over Lori sleeping. In this bit, a spirit (Anne Gaybis) informs her that "you have the power!" in regards to her ESP abilities. The conversations between Lori and Frank have been greatly shortened to where it now looks like all they do is argue. Once they arrive to the small town of Lilith, the spirit is superimposed over their new house to warn Lori that Mr. Cato (Orson Welles) is "a vile slime of spit." The spirit will return several more times in scenes that are pointless as the ghost merely reiterates what we've already seen or shouts out "Beware!" like she's in some Ed Wood movie.

The next big change occurs when Lori and Frank go to the party at Jay (Harvey Shane) and Nancy's (Sue Bernard) place. Originally we see a bunch of female witches garbed in white robes sitting there staring at them while Jay tries to coerce the couple into joining their cult. The shots of the witches have mostly been replaced here by a room full of male and female partiers. Future Scream Queen extraordinaire "Berinka" / Brinke Stevens can be spotted sitting on the edge of a couch with a martini in one hand hugging a guy. Another woman whose face is obscured but tits aren't gets several close-ups. A double for Frank is then seen from behind following another topless woman into another room. There, things get a little kinkier. The white goat demon leader guy smokes a hookah while topless women dance and another woman in leather whips a bare-assed guy sprawled out over a fireplace mantle (!)

There are no other major new scenes included after the party, just more of the spirit talking and some additional fx added to the finale to make it look like it's taking place during a thunderstorm. However, some scenes from the original have been shuffled around or removed entirely to create a slightly different narrative. A dream sequence in the original where Lori accidentally stabs her husband as he's hidden under the goat mask at the time, has been moved to the ending and presented as "real." A fire effect superimposed over a scene in the original has also been removed and the original's (awful) ending is thankfully scrapped and replaced with a more grim finale. There are also a few bits from the original 1972 shoot that didn't make that final cut that are included here, including more footage of a topless Franklin burning at the stake and lying in bed. Some of these alterations are actually for the better, which at least justifies this, even if the movie as a whole isn't great.

The Magnum reissue of this title (under the new moniker Rosemary's Disciples) is the same "new" version of the film and includes the names of new cast members Knight and Peckinpaugh on the VHS box. The Finnish VHS release, which uses the title Noituus / "Witchcraft," the Argentinian VHS titled Magia negra / "Black Magic" and the Japanese VHS from Showa, which also uses the Witching title, were also this new spiced up version. The latter really plays up the nudity on both the front and back covers, so you can see exactly why they added this stuff.

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