Night of the Witches (1970)

A few days ago I woke up with a hankering for a Bloody Mary. This is not something I usually drink, but for whatever reason, it sounded absolutely perfect. Salty, spicy, lemony, vodka-y. Maybe with a little pickle on the side. However, I faced two problems. The first was that it was Monday. According to HR, I shouldn’t start the workday off like that. Fine. The second problem was that the only ingredient I had on hand was vodka. No one has Bloody Mary fixin’s on hand. It’s exactly why we have bars, which have been closed during the pandemic. So I had to wait until I got my shit together, which meant spending a week craving something infuriatingly specific with no suitable substitute.

This brings me to Night of the Witches.

A preacher rides up to a beach on an actual jackass. He’s got on black suit and a black hat; it’s perfect beach wear. He prowls the dunes and comes across a snuggling couple. She’s wearing a bikini so you know she’s a wild one. She’s a sinner! A harlot! A whore! The preacher warns of hellfire and brimstone. Her soul will be damned for all eternity for her loose lips and hips! Only Jesus can save her now! But wait, there’s also another way. He gets with the girl, steals her snacks, and escapes the angry boyfriend in their car.

Wow, what a dick. 

Meanwhile, a coven gathers in a seaside villa and performs an ancient and sexy ritual. Nubile witches bow around a dead body and brandish swords. They wear long gowns and sway to and fro in a modern dance (pronounced dahnse). Guess who shows up at their front door? The witches look the preacher up and down, taking in his soul and his astrological sign. 

“Scorpio governs the sex organs.”

You don’t say.

Night of the Witches is one part camp, and three hundred parts amazing soundtrack. There’s rolling stage fog, bubbling cauldrons, perfectly timed lightning crashes, flickering candles, ornate goblets filled with bubbling “nectar,” and ladies performing dahnses. The characters are dramatic and big, as is the eye make-up and jewelry. The set is vibrant and kitschy; you can see how it could’ve inspired Anna Biller’s The Love Witch. But the real standout is the music: there’s pounding drums, psychedelic folk songs, twangy country ditties, and a few titty shakers thrown in for good measure. While Night of the Witches is stuffed with melodrama, spectacle, and a surprisingly large number of modern dahnse scenes, it has the laid back and joyful vibe of a nudie cutie (only without the nudity). The film is essentially girls shaking their hips to rump-shaking tunes, along with a mouthy preacher on the lam from two small-town cops, all against the beautiful backdrop of Southern California. There’s not much to it; there’s no blood, gore, violence, or even sex. It’s the most chill witchcraft you’ve ever seen, but somehow it’s still bewitching. There’s nothing too complicated or confusing, but sometimes that’s the mood you want. There’s a lot of yammering, sure, and the film slows at parts, but then it cuts to trippy visuals and voiceovers of spells, and you’re right back in it. Night of the Witches is essentially a Bloody Mary. When you’re in the mood, it’s absolutely perfect and satisfies a craving for something specific, which is cute girls in a coven committing gentle ritual murders. And also alcoholic tomato soup.

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