THE DEVIL’S OWN (1966, aka THE WITCHES)

Review by LL Soares

I’m always thrilled to find a Hammer film that I hadn’t seen before. There aren’t many, but when I came across one entitled THE DEVIL’S OWN (1966), I didn’t realize it was the same thing as THE WITCHES. It stars former Hollywood leading lady Joan Fontaine (also in REBECCA, 1940, SUSPICION, 1941, and JANE EYRE, 1943) as Gwen Mayfield. When we first see her, she’s working in Africa for a missionary school, and is gathering her things in preparation of fleeing. Jungle drums fills the air as she has her servants pack up her books in boxes, that is until they see a strange fetish object that looks like a knife with a feather head. The servants immediately flee, and the front door opens to reveal someone in a gigantic mask (the face mask covers their entire body).

We then jump ahead of England. Ms. Mayfield has recovered from a nervous breakdown and is interviewing for a job as a teacher in a small town. The interview, with priest Alan Bax (Alec McCowen, also in Hitchcock’s FRENZY, 1972, and THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, 1993) goes well, even though she admits to her previous illness. She moves to the village and meets Alan’s sister, journalist Stephanie Bax (Kay Walsh, also in OLIVER TWIST, 1948, SCROOGE, 1970, and THE RULING CLASS, 1972) and then the local villagers. Things seem to be going well, when Gwen notices that the villagers seem awful determined to break up the relationship of two teenagers. The boy is the son of the local handyman, Bob Curd (Duncan Lamont), so Gwen at first assumes that it’s an issue of snobbery, but the more she investigates, the more she is convinced that the girl, Linda Rigg (Ingrid Brett, also in THE LAST TYCOON, 1976, and DEADLY PASSION, 1985) is in danger. But before she gets too close, she sees figures similar to those she saw in Africa, and has another breakdown!

At first, she’s unable to remember what has happened when she wakes up in a “nursing home,” but she gradually remembers and realizes that she is being held there against her will. She escapes and goes back to the village, only to learn the sinister truth behind the villagers and the young girl they have fought to keep pure.

THE DEVIL’S OWN is an interesting little film, mainly because its storyline is so subtle. In a weird way, the buildup almost seems a bit similar to the classic THE WICKER MAN (1973). I really enjoyed the Hammer films that dealt with occult matters (such as this one and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, 1968), and leading lady Fontaine is quite good here as Gwen.

The screenplay is by the great Nigel Kneale (THE ENTERTAINER, 1960, FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, 1967), based on a novel by Peter Curtis. The film is directed by Cyril Frankel, who also directed episodes of THE AVENGERS (in 1968) and JASON KING (1971 – 1972).

There are some unusual story elements, including the fact that Alan Bax is not a priest at all, but only dresses up as one in times of stress to calm himself (!), and the secretive plot once we find out what the villagers are up to. THE DEVIL’S OWN is a good one.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

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