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  Legend of the Witches Lovin' The Coven
Year: 1970
Director: Malcolm Leigh
Stars: Various
Genre: DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Pagans - witches, if you will - believe that the world was formed when the goddess Diana was born, and seeking to find companionship other than her own reflection seen on the surface of water, her counterpart Lucifer was created to become her partner in the sky, thus were the moon and sun brought into being. There are still witches practicing their ceremonies to this day, and should you be invited to join a coven this documentary will detail what you would expect from an initiation ceremony as we watch this new convert in the woods, naked as the day he was born with other similarly nude participants, set on following the arcane rules of worship that have been passed down from ancient times...

Or made up a short while ago, it was difficult to tell with director Malcolm Leigh's Legend of the Witches as his apparently carefully captured black masses and stony-faced woodland frolicking shared many elements of a genre that had come into being around the time: the mondo movie. Those productions would have no qualms about presenting senstationalist material under the claim that what we were watching was all true, when in fact a good portion of what we were watching had been staged for the camera, leaving only the most gullible viewer believing they really were appreciating outrageous religious rites, bizarre behaviour or harrowing footage of death and destruction.

The libraries supplying that sort of already recorded clippage were often raided by producers so the prurient could enjoy various newsreel mishaps, but it was not always the case as mondo movies could just as easily be manufactured through asking a few favours and essentially making up scenes designed to titillate or tut-tut. This format made it to British shores just as it did the more usual Continental locations, though rarely, with only works such as The London Nobody Knows (presented by James Mason, no less) or London in the Raw making much of an impression, though in this case Leigh could well have had genuine faith in his material, his other works largely being equally obscure religious documentaries.

That said, he also made softcore sex films, which may have explained the sequences contained herein where copious nudity was on display. That this film didn't make it to mainstream cinemas and was more likely to be caught in sex clubs or British grindhouses was an indication that even if it were to be taken seriously, the audience who turned out for it were more interested in seeing boobs and bums, with the added bonus of male nudity too, far more than you'd get in this country's movies of the day - not even the nudist camp flicks had gone this far. One drawback as far as that went, and possibly giving it the sheen of respectability that the censor was lenient towards, was the utter lack of colour: it was a strictly black and white experience.

In many places Legend of the Witches came across less mondo and more extreme programme for schools and colleges, with its R.P. narrator keeping it strictly educational aside from the odd lapse into Dalek-like repetition ("The body of Christ!" or "Hate, hate, hate, hate!", for instance). We learned that much of the rituals of Christianity owed plenty to the pagan ways of the ancients, their own venerable ceremonies and traditions taken over wholesale by the craze for converting the Europeans to Christ, and right enough illustrating this with various church decorations and rites that were unmistakably pagan. Yet at regular intervals this went a little wonky, as when we were "treated" to a selection of voodoo-like methods of cursing your rival - sticking pins in dolls, basically, with the medical profession or the female military the usual targets, this tells us with no explanation. In the main it was the recreations of the witchcraft that would be most memorable, not simply for the starkers aspect, but because they looked so half-arsed and awkward. It's difficult to see the use for actual pagans this would be.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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