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TV Tuesday: Hammer House of Horror (Witching Time)




Truth be told, I’ve never been fond of the Hammer House of Horror television series. In fact, I’ve never gotten all the way through it because when I’ve tried, I felt it moved too slow and was sometimes confusing. With Comet TV running series marathons on June 16 and 23, though, I decided to revisit it. My tastes have probably changed since the last time I watched it and, if the premiere episode is any indication, I think I’m going to like it this time.

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Witching Time is a good start. It’s a creepy little tale with some twists and turns in places you might not expect them. For example, when Mary (Prunella Gee) is revealed in the first act to be cheating on her husband, David (Jon Finch), it seems like the episode is going to be a revenge story. However, she soon forgets about her lover and seems genuinely interested in David’s wellbeing. It’s not necessarily a plot twist in the strictest sense, but the plot does proceed in ways that you don’t expect.

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Likewise, Mary actually believes David when he claims a witch, Lucinda (Patricia Quinn), travelled through time and landed in the barn. Perhaps that is due to the deep claw marks Lucinda left on his back when she threw herself upon him in bed. Mary even takes it upon herself to do some research and consult a clergyman to discuss exorcism. She learns that a woman named Lucinda, who was accused of witchcraft in the 17th century, disappeared before she was sentenced.

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In the spring of 1978, I had the good fortune to take a trip to England with my parents. One of the things I remember to this day is that there was nudity on TV. Had I forgotten, Witching Time would have reminded me… in its very first scene. Produced the year after Hammer made its final theatrical movie (The Lady Vanishes, 1979), the series so far seems to be continuing the studio’s evolution into sexier, more adult fare. It’s not necessarily gratuitous, but neither is it necessary.

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One plot element not twisted is the conclusion, and it could have used a jolt. It’s exciting enough, I suppose, but it’s a happy ending. I like anthology stories with surprises at the end… and I can think of a perfect one for Witching Time. SPOILER ALERT! At one point near the end, Mary alters the voodoo doll that Lucinda created in her likeness to represent Lucinda. She ultimately throws it in the fire and you hear the witch scream. How delicious would it have been for Mary to burn instead?

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Despite this specific disappointment, Witching Time has a spooky atmosphere and some good scares, particularly for the small screen. The acting is good, with Quinn being the weakest link. It’s not gory, per se, but the bloody, headless bird Mary finds in bed is pretty gruesome. I can easily see why I didn’t originally care for the series; however, I’m much more accustomed these days to British television and all its unique quirks. I’m looking forward to watching more episodes.

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Hammer Horror Film Connections:

  • Jon Finch appeared in The Vampire Lovers and The Horror of Frankenstein

  • Margaret Anderson (Sister) appeared in The Quatermass Xperiment

  • James Bernard composed the music

Season 1

Episode 1

Written by Anthony Read

Directed by Don Leaver

Starring Jon Finch, Patricia Quinn, Prunella Gee, Ian McCulloch Aired September 12, 1980 (UK) RT 52 min.

Home Video (Blu-ray)

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