Blu-ray Movie Review – The Witches (1967)

The Witches
Directed by Mauro Bolognini, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rossi, & Luchino Visconti
Courtesy of Arrow Academy & MVD Distribution
Original Year of Release: 1967
Blu-ray Release Date: January 30, 2018

When it comes to surrealism, it’s hard to top the style and imagination of the 60’s. This turbulent decade birthed some of the most iconic films of the century, but it also opened the door to new sociological topics to use in these works. From feminism to racism, many themes were explored and even exploited during this time. But try as they might, not every film succeeded in making the statement it was attempting.

I’m still trying to make up my mind as to whether or not THE WITCHES is one of these successes. This quirky anthology portrays women in a variety of lights; some are subtle but yet a couple are just downright intrusive with what they’re trying to convey. Still, regardless of the intended statement, there’s no denying the entertainment value THE WITCHES offers. It’s one of those films you have to keep watching, just to see where it goes next.

If you are not familiar with THE WITCHES, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Academy & MVD Distribution:

In the mid-sixties, famed producer Dino De Laurentiis brought together the talents of five celebrated Italian directors for an anthology film. Their brief was simple: to direct an episode in which Silvana Mangano (Bitter Rice, Ludwig) plays a witch.

Luchino Visconti (Ossessione, Death in Venice) and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (Bicycle Thieves) open the film with The Witch Burned Alive, about a famous actress and a drunken evening that leads to unpleasant revelations. Civic Sense is a lightly comic interlude from Mauro Bolognini (The Lady of the Camelias) with a dark conclusion, and The Earth as Seen from the Moon sees Italian comedy legend Totò team up with Pier Paolo Pasolini (Theorem) for the first time for a tale of matrimony and a red-headed father and son. Franco Rosso (The Woman in the Painting) concocts a story of revenge in The Sicilian s Wife, while Vittorio De Sica (Shoeshine) casts Clint Eastwood as Mangano s estranged husband in An Evening Like the Others, concluding The Witches with a stunning homage to Italian comic books.

Now, don’t misunderstand me: I enjoyed THE WITCHES because it’s not typical cinema. But you have to leave any preconceptions you might have about the film’s content behind before you watch it. I assumed (incorrectly) that the plot actually dealt with, well, witches, given the title and whatnot. Interestingly, it has nothing to do at all with the occult.

Instead, we get five short films by five different directors that introduce women in a variety of situations: the famous actress hiding away from her adoring public at a ski lodge who discovers she’s pregnant; a deaf woman who is approached by a man and his son to be the wife/mother to them both; the daydreaming wife of a dull husband; a woman who is the reason for a serial killer’s rage; and a female driver transporting a wounded man to what is supposed to be a hospital. Each short is vastly different from it’s siblings, and each provides it’s own sense of entertainment.

The films in THE WITCHES are all shot well and look great onscreen. I do not have previous copies of the film to compare, so I’m not sure how much better the quality of the Blu-ray transfer is, but the film looks great regardless. Granted, it’s not as crisp as some of the other Arrow HD transfers I’ve seen, but again, that is probably due to the source material.

If I were forced to pick a favorite out of these shorts, I’d probably have to choose “An Evening Like the Others” because it boasts the cameo of a young (and humorous) Clint Eastwood. Seeing him in a role like this is a welcome surprise, and therefore makes the subject matter of this short much more interesting.

I give THE WITCHES a thumbs up, however the film won’t work for everybody. Don’t go into it expecting horror or anything of the sort. Instead, look for the social commentaries that each short attempts to portray. If you look beneath the surface of each, you’ll find some interesting discussion material.

THE WITCHES is available now.

* Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
* High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
* Original Italian mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)
* Brand-new audio commentary by film critic and novelist Tim Lucas
* Interview with actor Ninetto Davoli, recorded exclusively for this release
* English-language version of Vittorio De Sica s episode, An Evening Like the Others, starring Clint Eastwood
* Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
* FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Pasquale Iannone and Kat Ellinger