The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)

Viewed January 27th

Sexually abused as a child, a down-on-her-luck woman commits a series of murders that she can't remember.

The first scenes of The Witch Who Came From the Sea are almost too scuzzy, both in their production and the world they represent, to warrant watching the film in full. There's a dirty, drugged-out hellscape on view here and everyone involved seems too fucked up to have produced anything other than a sort of time capsule representing the dark side of L.A. hippie culture (the film was produced in 1971, but not released until 1976). Nothing feels intentional, it's all a freak out, best exemplified by the regular recourse to an echoey droning effect on the dialogue of the murder scenes and dark synth music drawing you deeper into the bad trip. I can't be sure, but it seems as though Paul Thomas Anderson borrowed certain images and tropes from the film in his own depiction of burnt-out L.A. hippie life in Inherent Vice. All that said, though, there are images and faces that keep you drawn in and as the film continues and the faces become a bit more familiar and its surreal imagery (courtesy of cinematographer Dean Cundey) becomes more systematic, an intriguing sense that, in fact, the film is intentional, or at least an artistic success for those involved, emerges. The myth of this "witch" is gradually unveiled through flashbacks: she was sexually abused by her burly sailor father while watching a clown show on television and the trauma manifests, primarily, through killing large, muscular men she sees on television, and, secondarily, through an identification with the little mermaid and an idea of returning to the sea so she can have her legs closed-up with a long tail in order to become pure. This wouldn't work without Millie Perkins turning in a star performance. Her performance is almost too real to deal with (she really does seem like a burnt out alcoholic whose life took a wrong turn somewhere), but she commits to it and the more she unveils the depths of her character, disappearing into the psychosis, the more we want her to return to the sea, to her innocence, but we know, tragically, that she's gone too far. Perkins, best known for landing the role of Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) when she was a teenager, was the wife of writer and Roger Corman-veteran Robert Thom. The director was Matt Cimber, a journeyman Hollywood director who was married to Jayne Mansfield at the time of her notoriously gruesome car accident death. The rest of the cast, as well, seem like hardboiled veterans of the lower echelons of the movie industry in L.A. For all of them, the film feels like an earnest cry to come back from the darkness.