The Naked Witch is Dallas director Larry Buchanan's first horror movie. Let me repeat that, lest the full terror of the statement somehow bypassed you: The Naked Witch is Dallas director Larry Buchanan's first horror movie. This means he is not as good as when he directed, say, Zontar, the Thing from Venus, Curse of the Swamp Creature, or Mars Needs Women.
The Naked Witch desperately wants to be a Texas version of Mario Bava's Black Sunday, as a meddlesome college student accidentally resurrects "The Luckenbach Witch", who proceeds to work her vengeance upon the descendants of the man who framed her for witchcraft (though the fact that she's walking around a century later seems to bear out the accusation, no?). Censor blobs (that look like spray paint on the camera lens!) blot out any possible nudity, though a witchy skinny-dipping scene uses flesh-colored pasties to good effect. The Naked Witch takes a five minute campfire story and pads it out to nearly an hour. Even the producer, Claude Alexander, in his commentary track bitterly refers to it as "a home movie".
How bad can it possibly be? Ask The Bad Movie Report.
Crypt of Dark Secrets is a better movie, but that's like saying strychnine isn't quite as poisonous as cyanide. Retired Army Ranger Ted Watkins takes up residence on Haunted Island in the Louisiana swamps, and not caring much for things like money, stuffs all his benefit pay in a breadbox. Three lowlifes kill him for the cash, but the resident witch/snake woman/minor league deity Damballa resurrects him by doing a nude dance routine, and then inflicts a remarkably unexciting voodoo vengeance on the killers. Crypt takes the five minute campfire story and pads it out to a numbing 71 minutes. Especially teeth-grinding is the segment that can only be called "The Origin of Damballa", which is full to the brim of recursive pseudo-Biblical blather - but boy, does it eat up the running time!
Don't bother looking for a crypt, either. There is a strange metal sarcophagus that Damballa does yet another nude dance around, but whether this qualifies as a crypt is open to interpretation. The acting is uniformly atrocious, but at least the camerawork is good, avoiding the "home movie" label - until somebody opens their mouth.
Something Weird continues to be my hero for providing stunning transfers of films that can be called "marginal" if one is feeling particularly charitable. The elements of both films are in amazingly good shape, with only minor dust damage in evidence. The sound was never demonstration quality in these flicks, but you can hear each painful line delivery, which may be the dark side of CD-quality sound.
SW has also been quite playful with their menus. The main menu features The Naked Witch's time-consuming dance number in the background (enlivened by a fake strobe-light effect), and menu choices in German. The Bonus Materials Menu has selections from the trailers playing in the background, including one for Beauty and the Cave, which does not appear on the disc. (It was thought that was a re-titling of Naked Witch, but Alexander puts that idea to rest on his commentary track.) There is also a menacing crawdad in the corner who creeps ever closer to the menu the longer you let the background materials play.
The Naked Witch has two commentary tracks: the first, by director Larry Buchanan, is chatty and unfocussed - you keep hearing him deferring to his wife for specific details. To be fair, he is talking about events forty years ago. The track seems to bear out Buchanan's reputation as a very nice man, if not exactly a good filmmaker. The second track, by producer and "roadshow impresario" Claude Alexander, is more cantankerous. He has little complimentary to say about Naked Witch or Buchanan's filmmaking talents in general. This is also part of a larger interview, and only about the first ten minutes or so have anything to do with Buchanan. The rest is taken up by Alexander's reminisces about the roadshow circuit, and the interview ends ten minutes before the feature does.
There are TV spots for the two movies (the two included for The Naked Witch are notable for containing absolutely no footage from the movie they're advertising - heaven knows what movie they're actually from). There are also trailers for Bourbon Street Shadows, The Dead One, The Devil's Garden, Hot Pants Holiday, Indecent Desires, Macumba Love, Naked Evil, Swamp Girl, The Virgin Witch, Voodoo Village, Witchcraft, and The Witch's Curse.
Something Weird's discs usually contain a cornucopia of vaguely thematic extras; this time it's dancing witches. The first short, Witch Doctor, appears to be a serious piece of choreography. The rest, however, are strippers with sorcerous trappings: Afro-Cuban Genii, Voodoo Virgin, Temple Dance and Cigam S'rehtom. There's an experimental short called Acid Skull that details a bad LSD trip, which, as we all know, involves naked women.
There is a Gallery of "rare Naked Witch behind-the-scenes photos and exploitation art" and a gallery of garish horror comic covers set to the music of the Dead Elvi (I guess SW finally ran out of exploitation ads - this is actually a welcome change of pace).
You're still not finished. There is an extended nudie short, The Hot Pearl Snatch, that manages to, in a half-hour, combine unrelated footage of lesbians, bondage, body painting, strippers, murder and a thoroughly unappetizing gnome-like protagonist into one deliriously boring package. Watching the camerawork, which studiously avoids anyone actually speaking, may make you wonder if Doris Wishman made this, or perhaps one of her disciples. Don't sprain anything wondering about this, it ain't worth it. This short is also damaged - the first ten minutes or so are heavily lined, though the image remains sharp and colors stable. The lines do quiet down eventually, but remain a constant presence, a subtle reminder of how good the two featured movies look.
There is also - unusual for a Something Weird disc - an Easter Egg. On the main menu, press right until you highlight the Bonus Materials entry (here called "Mumbo Jumbo"), then press right one more time, and you will be rewarded with a brief snippet of some early 60s semi-British songstress crooning about voodoo, intercut with footage of a chimpanzee. Why? I have no idea (see not spraining yourself, above).
I have to say I sure as heck got my money's worth out of this disc. But then, I am also a desperately sick individual.
Dr. Freex, 1/28/2004