The Witches (1966 film)

Not to be confused with The Witches (1990 film).
The Witches

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Cyril Frankel
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys
Written by Peter Curtis aka Norah Lofts
Based on The Devil's Own (novel)
Starring Joan Fontaine
Kay Walsh
Alec McCowen
Ann Bell
Ingrid Boulting (billed as Ingrid Brett)
Music by Richard Rodney Bennett
Cinematography Arthur Grant
Edited by Chris Barnes
James Needs
Distributed by Associated British-Pathé
(United Kingdom)
20th Century Fox
(United States)
Release dates
21 November 1966 (London)
February 1967 (United States)
Running time
90 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Witches (US: The Devil's Own) is a 1966 British horror film made by Hammer Films. It was adapted by Nigel Kneale from the novel The Devil's Own by Norah Lofts, under the pseudonym Peter Curtis. It was directed by Cyril Frankel and starred Joan Fontaine (in her final feature-film performance), Alec McCowen, Kay Walsh, Ann Bell, Ingrid Boulting (billed as Ingrid Brett), Gwen Ffrangcon Davies and Rudolph Walker. This was the final big-screen film role for Fontaine.


A British schoolteacher, Gwen (Joan Fontaine), travels to Africa to work as a missionary. She has a nervous breakdown after being exposed to witchcraft during a rebellion led by witch doctors. Returning to England to recover, she is hired by wealthy siblings Alan (Alec McCowen), a priest, and Stephanie Bax (Kay Walsh), a writer, to become head teacher of the small private school in their rural village.

Upon moving into the teacher's cottage, Gwen asks her maid, Valerie (Michele Dotrice) where she might find the rectory so that she can thank Alan for her new job; Valerie replies that there is no rectory, but gives Gwen directions to Alan and Stephanie's house, where Alan admits that he is not really a priest and only wears the collar "for security", but maintains a small chapel in his home. Gwen also meets Stephanie, with whom she gets along quickly.

Two of Gwen's students, Ronnie Dowsett (Martin Stephens) and Linda Rigg (Ingrid Boulting), are attracted to each other and maintain something of a relationship, but the entire town seems to disapprove of the two's relationship and wants them apart, especially Linda's grandmother (Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies). After Ronnie leaves Gwen a disturbing note stating that Linda's grandmother is cruel to her and ran Linda's hand through a ringer, Gwen goes to visit Linda at home, who claims to have hurt her hand washing doll clothes. Linda's grandmother seems to Gwen to be a cheerful woman, and is well-versed in the making of home remedies from herbs.

Ronnie gives Linda a male doll to match her female doll, supposedly symbolizing the two. The doll turns up missing, but Linda asserts that she lost it. Soon after, Ronnie falls into a coma and spends weeks in a hospital. Subsequently, while on a field trip, Gwen finds the doll that Ronnie gave Linda in the fork of a tree, with its head missing and pins in its abdomen. She and Stephanie begin to suspect witchcraft, and start investigating. By asking questions, Gwen upsets Ronnie's mother, who moves him away abruptly, stating that "'they' will finish him" if she does not. The same night, Ronnie's father visits Gwen, visibly drunk, and goes to confront Linda's grandmother. That night, he drowns.

Upon investigation of the spot where Ronnie's father has drowned, Gwen finds many footprints and suspects that he may have been dragged there by a group of people. Gwen volunteers to bear witness at an inquest, and stays with Stephanie the night before, as she has taken a fever. In the night, she has a nightmare about the witch doctors that attacked her in Africa, and has another nervous breakdown.

After a stay in a convalescent home, Gwen regains her memory and goes back to stay with Stephanie and Alan, who has begun acting strangely and secretively. One night, Gwen sees the village people congregating in a ruined church. After walking in on their actions, Gwen is forcibly initiated into the coven by Stephanie, who has been the leader of the witches all along. Though he has nothing to do with the witches due to his being devoutly religious, Alan acts paranoid and will not tell Gwen Linda's whereabouts until he finally breaks down and tells her that the intent is to sacrifice Linda so that Stephanie may regain her youth and prolong her life. After Stephanie Gwen is to hold Linda until the sacrifice the next night.

At the sacrifice, Linda is hypnotized and Gwen cannot get her to come to. When Stephanie is about to sacrifice Linda, Gwen remembers that the sacrifice will be null if anyone else's blood is shed. In a frenzy, Gwen cuts her own arm, and wipes her blood on Stephanie's robes. Stephanie dies instantly, and all of the village people come out of their daze, returning to normal; the were all under Stephanie's control. Linda's grandmother embraces her granddaughter, signalling that there will be no more witchcraft.

Weeks later, the village has returned to its idyllic happiness. Alan and Gwen, who have become friends, are seen installing a new speaker at the school, showing that things are looking up for the village and its people. They exchange smiles, showing that their relationship may soon turn romantic.



The village of Hambleden, Buckinghamshire, was the filming location for the fictional village of Heddaby. Interiors were filmed at Hammer's usual studio at Bray in the same year that the famous horror film company vacated their home altogether for (mainly) Elstree and Pinewood. The cast featured child-actor Martin Stephens, then 17. The supporting cast also included Hammer regular Duncan Lamont, as well as John Collin, Michele Dotrice, Leonard Rossiter and Bryan Marshall. The score was by Richard Rodney Bennett.

In a later magazine interview, Nigel Kneale said that he was dissatisfied with the way the film had turned out. Personally, he found modern black magic practitioners to be fairly risible and he had intended to poke fun at the idea of an English coven. His blackly comic touches were removed by the production team, who wanted the film to be entirely serious.

Critical reception

Variety called the film "routine entertainment".[1] The Hammer Story: The Authorised Biography of Hammer Films called the film "unsettling, though compromised by a hysterical climax", writing, "when The Witches strikes the right balance it ultimately succeeds as an engrossing thriller, even if it ultimately disappoints as Hammer horror."[2]

As of 2013, The Witches currently holds a three star rating (5.8/10) on IMDb and 40% maximum approval on Rotten Tomatoes.


  1. "The Witches". Variety. 31 December 1965.
  2. Hearn & Barnes 2007, p. 109.
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