Monday, 20 July 2015
The Devil made them do it, or was it the tabloid press? Throughout the late Sixties and early Seventies Britain’s tabloids both titillated and sent shock waves to the public with vivid headlines about black masses, Satanic orgies, graveyard desecrations and secretive and powerful Occult societies…. ‘read all about it in next week’s News of the World’. In a short amount of time a whole cottage industry sprung up to cater to the nation’s curtain twitchers and their new found fascination with witchcraft. From softcore sex paperbacks (Satan’s Slaves, The King of the Witches), to the reissue of Dennis Wheatley novels with a sexed-up ad campaign that ran in Titbits magazine, to Witchcraft magazine “the monthly chronicle of Horror, Satanism and the Occult”, whose pictorials were a mixture of professionally taken photos of glamour models posed against occult themed backdrops and real life photos of occult gatherings with black bars and drawn on underwear used to disguise the identity and genitals of the participants.
Cinema was no slouch when it came to capitalising on the subject, and soon cinemagoers were being treated to semi-fictional documentaries like Derek Ford’s Secret Rites and Malcolm Leigh’s The Legend of the Witches, the latter film playing for over 32 weeks in the West End, despite its non-commercial use of black and white and extensive male nudity. It wasn’t only domestic filmmakers who were drawn to documenting the occult in Britain, Italian made mondo documentaries such as Luigi Scattini’s Witchcraft 70 and Sergio Martino’s Mondo Sex took massive delight in portraying Britain as a nation with nothing better to do at the weekend than to don goat’s head masks and deflower virgins. Even Britain’s shadowy hardcore pornography industry got in on the act, in the blue movie ‘Satan’s Children’ a loser in an occult mask presides over dildo worshipping rituals, then demands blowjobs from his female followers.
from the pages of Witchcraft magazine
Of all the films born out of Britain going occult crazy during this period, 1970’s Virgin Witch is the one that has had the longest shelf life. Perhaps due to the smart move of the film going the fictional narrative route, over the pseudo-documentary one. A decision that gave it a life outside the limited sub-genre of occult documentaries and allowed Virgin Witch to be later billed as a horror film, although if we’re being honest Virgin Witch is closer to the sexploitation genre than it is horror.
Whatever powers Virgin Witch possess, staying power is certainly amongst them. Witchcraft 70, The Legend of the Witches and Secret Rites may have been films in touch with the tastes of their times, but quickly got kicked into the obscurity pile when the public’s curiosity over the sex lives of witches began to wane. Those films’ perceived lack of commercial value can be judged by the fact that no one considered them worthy of being released on video during the 1980s and 1990s.
Virgin Witch on the other hand has been anything but invisible during these last few decades. Since the early 1990s, it has constantly been in circulation, thanks in no small part to Redemption films, for whom Virgin Witch is obviously a bit of a personal cause, despite the fact that the film doesn’t even have any naked nuns in it. Seriously though, you cannot fault Redemption when it comes to their role as Virgin Witch’s proud custodian. It is a film they’ve done right by over the years, not only releasing it on video but re-issuing its tie-in novelisation, getting the film shown on television via the Bravo channel, releasing it on DVD, releasing it on Blu-Ray in the States. My girlfriend even caught the film on Netflix. So it seems cometh the new formats and new ways to watch films, cometh the Virgin Witch, there is no escaping her.
As for me, I bought the Redemption VHS second hand a couple of years after it came out, committed it to DVDr when I sold the tape on a few years ago, and for all the ample opportunity to do so since, I’ve never felt the inclination to buy it again on DVD or Blu-Ray. So take that as a reflection of how I feel about this film, I’m happy to own it and dust it off once in a blue moon, but I’m not so enamoured with Virgin Witch that I’d want to throw further money at it to see a better looking version of it. Although ironically given that I don’t own it on DVD, I can credit Virgin Witch with being the film that in the early 2000s snapped me out of collecting VHS in favour of going with the times and moving onto DVD. To explain in more detail, I was at a film collectors fair back then and was absolutely stunned to see somebody casually lay down fifty pounds for an early video release of Virgin Witch, this keeping in mind was at a time when the film had already made it onto DVD and could be picked up at a fifth of that price and probably looking ten times better on disc. Now, I am aware that fifty pounds is a small fry amount when it comes to pre-cert videos, and that at the higher end of collectability there are tapes that can fetch four figure sums, but for me that was the moment that caused me to jump ship on the video collecting mentality. Prior to DVD, collecting rare films and collecting rare videos tended to be one in the same, but once DVD came along and opened up new avenues to see hitherto obscure films, you did begin to see a split between the people who wanted to see these films looking as good as possible and so turned their back on VHS in favour of DVD, and people who stuck to their guns and continued to remain faithful to the VHS format. After the Virgin Witch incident I began to side with the former’s mind-set. To me fifty pounds for Virgin Witch just represented someone’s spiralling out of control obsession for collecting videos for the sake of collecting videos, irregardless of whether the actual film on the tape was rare, or desirable, or warranted the price tag. So that really acted as a wakeup call for me to take a couple of steps back from the video collecting world for fear that I one day could become the man who could justify paying fifty pounds for a copy of Virgin Witch.
For the benefit of those that haven’t seen it, Virgin Witch features real life siblings Vicki and Ann Michelle as Betty and Christine, two sisters escaping from the provinces with the foggy notion of hitchhiking to the big smoke and breaking into modelling. Soon after hitting the road they make the acquaintance of Johnny (Keith Buckley) who takes a special shine to Betty, and offers the sisters a place to crash and the warning to avoid backstreet photographers. Advice that falls on deaf ears in the case of Christine, who soon finds herself auditioning for a modelling gig before Sybil Waite, (Patricia Haines) a stern looking, domineering lesbian and self-billed “wizard of commercial photography”. Sybil might not fit the bill of the type of lecherous bloke Johnny had in mind when he told Christine to avoid backstreet photographers, however Sybil’s motivation is pretty much the same, to get female models into her studio then come on to them sexually. Sybil’s office is an almost Bond villain set-up, full of gadgets designed to enable this female peeping tom to spy on her models undressing. Instantly getting her claws into Christine and attempting to exert control over her, Sybil tells Christine to change her name to Christina, and then insists on taking Christine’s vital statistics, all the while trying and failing badly to feign indifference to a job that privately is giving her a cheap thrill. “Do you really think you can use me?” asks Christine. In the context of the scene, it is simply a question about whether Sybil can employer her, but Ann Michelle’s delivery of the line makes it sound instead like a challenge if not outright threat to Sybil, offering a brief, flash-forward clue to how the entire film is going to play out.
As a reward for playing along with Sybil’s casting couch games, Christine gets a modelling gig shooting a cider advert at a country house called ‘Wychwold’. Having discovered that leg over merchant Johnny already has a girlfriend in black singer Abbey Dark, Christine insists on dragging Betty to Wychwold too in order to keep her at arm’s length from Johnny. Sex sells everything, even it seems cider, as the photoshoot for the cider campaign sees Christine sprawled naked over a car while Peter the photographer issues instructions like "take those jeans off... now the pants". Sparks fly between photographer and model, who enjoy an amorous roll around in the grass, Sybil seethes when she discovers them making out. As Sybil reminds him soon after, Peter is on the lower end of the sexual pecking order, within the household. It seems if anyone is getting their hands on the sisters during this weekend shoot it will either be Sybil or the house’s owner Gerald Amberly, doctor of philosophy and world class authority on the subject of witchcraft played by the extremely likeable, and cravat sporting Neil Hallett. Inquisitive souls, the sisters quickly discover Gerald, Sybil and Peter are all part of a witch’s coven of which Gerald is the chief white witch. Over dinner their concerns about this set-up are instantly put to bed by Gerald who reassures the sisters that the coven only use their powers for good, dropping swinger-type lines like “we use it for friendship and to give pleasure where we can”. Whilst Gerald cuts a surprisingly convincing figure with authentic dedication towards his lifestyle and religious beliefs, you do get the feeling that regularly stripping off for orgies in the grounds and ‘initiating’ young women into the coven by having sex with them on altars isn’t entirely without its appeal to this old fox as well. There are few funnier things in the history of cinema than the frenzied, ready for sex facial expressions that Neil Hallett pulls in the final scene of Virgin Witch. Christine wants in on the scene and to be made a witch, and our man Gerald is only too happy to initiate her.
A dramatic plot thread finally comes to the fore when Gerald discovers that Christina has hitherto unsuspected psychic powers that gives her control over others and make her a born witch. “There are some people who are born to be witches, born with special powers” he tells her. Armed with this information, Christine becomes determined to use these powers against Sybil, stage an occult coup within the coven and ultimately take Sybil’s place as high priestess.
There has been a tendency to dismiss Virgin Witch as a now kitsch, lightweight and airheaded excuse to fill the screen with as much female flesh as possible, and granted at the outset it is easy to jump to that conclusion. Initially it does appear that we are knee deep in another film in the ‘Au Pair Girls’ mode, one that gives you a mental image of its director as being a cravat wearing, serial bottom pincher who is giddily celebrating a post pill world where young women wear the shortest skirts possible, take having their bottoms pinched as a complement and are happy to strip off completely for filmmakers. Scratch below the surface though and I think there is more going on in Virgin Witch than people give it credit for, and this is a film with a complex, if somewhat mixed up, take on the roles of men and women at a time when both permissiveness and feminism were beginning to emerge.
Dialogue and the seriousness of Ann Michelle’s performance seek to underline the drive and fierce independence of Christine. “You don’t strike me as the domestic type” observes Sybil to which Christine boldly confirms “there is not a man living who could make me settle for that”. Fighting talk indeed. Finding less favour here is female passivity and emotional dependence on men. The first and last time we meet Johnny’s girlfriend Abbey Dark she is performing a song ‘You Go Your Way’ in a nightclub, the song doubles as an emotional plea to Johnny “I hear your cry, and I obey, my life, my all, the choice I pay, you know damn well, I’m in your spell till life is gone”. A heartfelt commentary on her crumbling relationship with Johnny, that is met with indifference from the rat bastard himself who is too busy chatting to a male friend about the Betty situation to pay attention to Abbey. The sad punch line to the scene sees Abbey finishing the song and staring at an empty seat where Johnny had been, Johnny having literally gone his own way.
At first glance the world of Virgin Witch is one run by men, yet all is not as it seems. Gerald may be the head of the coven, but the film wastes little time in shattering that illusion by revealing that behind the scenes all the strings are really being pulled by a woman, Sybil, who is only too happy to remind Gerald of that fact and put him in his place “you don’t have the power, you are high priest in name only”. What’s fascinating is that it’s a situation that mirrors that of the film itself. Virgin Witch’s credits might give the impression that the film was entirely directed, produced and written by men, but they appear to have been high priests in name only, and delving deeper into the genesis of the film reveals a strong, if largely invisible, female influence over the production. Now, here is where matters do get confusing, for forty five years on, exactly which women worked on this film and in how large a capacity has still managed to remain shrouded in mystery and conjecture. It is universally known and accepted that Virgin Witch marked the first entrance of Hazel Adair, previously known as the writer of TV soap operas like Emergency – Ward 10 and Crossroads, into the world of X-rated filmmaking, but it is less easy to pin point the extent of her involvement here. For years it was believed that the film’s producer Ralph Solomans was a pseudonym for Adair, foreshadowing her adoption of another male pseudonym ‘Elton Hawke’ later on in her career. However recent evidence has revealed that Ralph Solomans is in actual person, and a photo of him, taken on the set of one his earlier productions shows a youngish man rather than a middle aged woman called Hazel. Another Virgin Witch mystery is the real identity of ‘Klaus Vogel’ who not only wrote the film’s script but also its tie-in novelisation. Theories put forward over the years are that Vogel is either an Adair pseudonym, or a pseudonym for Beryl Vertue, better know these days as the producer of TV hits Men Behaving Badly and Coupling. Given the advanced age of both Adair and Vertue, plus their closed mouth stance on Virgin Witch, it seems likely that both ladies will take the secret of who Mr Vogel really was to their graves. Officially Adair is only credited on the film in a lowly capacity, as writer of the lyrics to the ‘You Go Your Way’ song, still given that Adair wore writer and producer hats on all the other films she worked on, it seems a safe enough bet to surmise that she held those position here too, albeit either anonymously or pseudonymously. An interview with Adair in a 1975 ‘Man Alive’ episode does carry a cut away to the press books of her adult films, designed to illustrate her filmography, and includes the Virgin Witch press book among them, so on that basis we can assume that Virgin Witch is indeed part of the Adair ‘canon’.
Virgin Witch does establish a repeated pattern of Adair hiring a specific kind of male film director who could be relied upon to deliver very competent and professionally made films while at the same time not leave any auteurish handprints on the end product. This is true of the other filmmakers who later worked for Adair- Robert Young, Don Chaffey and James Fargo- peek in on their careers and they were clearly prolific, go to guys who made whatever types of films that the producers and moneymen demanded of them, and were the antithesis of big personality, auteur filmmakers. The same goes for Virgin Witch’s director Ray Austin, another gun for hire director who appears to have made whatever was offered him, with a career that in the 1980s and 1990s took in lots of American TV work, he directed episodes of The Love Boat, Airwolf, Magnum P.I, Hart to Hart, etc. etc. The three feature films of his I’ve seen are so dissimilar that you can’t help reaching the conclusion that whatever personality they possess came as a result of the writers, producers or moneymen rather than Austin himself.
A year after Virgin Witch he made Fun and Games (1971), now better known under its American title ‘1000 Convicts and a Woman’ about the prick teasing daughter of a prison warden whose presence at Daddy’s place of work causes the (not really 1000) convicts to get all hot under the collar. Based on that salacious plot you’d be forgiven for thinking that Fun and Games could be a sister film to Virgin Witch, and yet there is a playful quality and sense of humour to Fun and Games, something you can’t really say about Virgin Witch. Mislabelled a sex film in some quarters, Fun and Games is actual fleeting in its use of nudity, which is something you could definitely never say about Virgin Witch. Austin’s next post-Virgin Witch film is even further divorced from it. Taking himself off to South Africa, Austin directed 1974’s Dr Maniac aka The House of the Living Dead, a bloodless old fashioned horror film that blatantly channels I Walked with a Zombie during several set pieces, and let’s face it using Val Lewton as a reference point is as far removed from Virgin Witch as you can get.
All things considered Virgin Witch does slot in far comfortably with Hazel Adair’s career than it does Austin’s, themes and hang ups that boil to the surface here, were destined to do so again in the later films she made under the Elton Hawke name. Without question Adair disserves credit as a female pioneer in mediums that in her time were perceived as being male only environments, there certainly wasn’t many women writing for television in the 1950s and 1960s, and there certainly wasn’t many women making sex films when ‘Elton Hawke’ was born, still Virgin Witch also serves as a valid reminder that women are as capable as bring the same bad mental baggage and bigotry to the screen as any chauvinistic or homophobic male.
For few films have oozed hostility towards lesbianism, and lesbians quite as much as Virgin Witch. While allot of the ‘poofter’ put down humour that is so prevalent in the era’s films and sitcoms can be traced back to the fact that the films and TV shows in question were made by straight men who at best viewed gay men as a source of amusement and at worst as an intimating sexual threat, Virgin Witch offers up the lesser sighted straight female equivalent. Just as straight male filmmakers of the time were regularly guilty of succumbing to ‘watch your backs’ paranoia when it came to gay characters, Virgin Witch is happy to pander to similar concerns about lesbians.
As far as the gospel according to Virgin Witch is concerned straight women aren’t safe around lesbians, the message here is ‘drop your guard for a moment and they’ll try and eat your pussy and worse still after they’ve had their wicked way with you, they’ll be after eating your younger sister’s pussy as well’. Adair’s script and her characters see Sybil’s sexuality as a larger threat and cause for concern than her deep involvement with the occult. “All the models have to wear copper plated pants, she’s as les as they come” Johnny is warned at one point, elsewhere Peter admits to Betty “she’s the other way, she fancies birds”. Where I think Virgin Witch puts a foot wrong dramatically is in its automatic assumption that its audience shares the prejudices of the characters quoted above, and the fact that Sybil is a lesbian is enough to turn us against her. Admittedly there is an opening scene in which its implied Sybil has murdered one of her earlier models, but the sequence is so confusingly put together that it is hard to make sense of and easy to forget given that there are no further references to this character during the rest of the film. Other than that you do feel that Virgin Witch never really shows us enough villainy from Sybil to truly justify Christine’s need to destroy her and take her place as the head of the coven. The last two times I’ve watched the film I’ve felt a growing degree of sympathy towards Sybil –who comes across as a slightly tragic, isolated and despised character-and at the same time alienated from Christine whose becomes less humane and more power hungry as the film goes on. Something helped immeasurably by the fact that Ann Michelle is blessed with one of the most intense, bone chilling stares ever captured on film. If you take nothing else from Virgin Witch it is that you’d never want to spill Ann Michelle’s drink in real life. If looks could kill, Ann Michelle would be on death row as we speak.
Now, not for a moment do I believe the filmmakers intended you to view Christine as anything other as the heroine of the piece, or Sybil as its villainess, but it is very easy to rebel against how the film wants you to see these characters, and look upon Christine as the real evil, destructive force at work in Virgin Witch. Taking into account that by the end of the film, she has both Betty and Johnny under her control and is using them to do her bidding. As well as using her sex appeal to win Gerald over, setting into motion her plan to make and grab for power within the coven and psychically assassinate Sybil.
Should you ever need proof that in the past gay men and woman were once viewed on the same level of contempt as child molesters in British culture then look no further than Virgin Witch. Sybil is closely depicted along those lines. Sybil being a sexual predator, incapable of having a consensual relationship with anyone, abusing her position of power, forcing her advances on others who are left degraded or vengeful by the experience. Even within the apparently sexually swinging and open minded confines of the witches’ coven Sybil is viewed with suspicion and treated as an outcast whose feelings for other women are seen as abhorrent.
Virgin Witch can’t be classed as a one shot excursion into dyke-hating by Adair either, which is another reason why I think it ties in closely to her other films. Consider her next film as writer and producer 1971’s Clinic Xclusive aka Sex Clinic aka With these Hands, whose sole lesbian character –played by Carmen Silvera- is depicted as a mental wreck, constantly making advances on a straight woman and whose sexuality leads her down the path of being blackmailed and death by suicide. Even when working in a lighter mode as in 1974’s sex comedy Can You Keep It Up For A Week, Adair can’t resist throwing in another lesbian bogeywoman, this time in the form of a leather-clad Valerie Leon, who makes unwanted advances on the hero’s girlfriend.
Now toxic as Adair’s hateful and negative depictions of gay women are, I do have to beguilingly concede that they are not entirely without foundation in real life. While there were sex hungry, exploitative males that the real life versions of Betty and Christine would have had to cross paths with back then, from wolves in family entertainers’ clothing like Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall to a certain pornographer (especially disliked by George Harrison Marks) who insisted on having unprotected sex with every model who worked for him (a decision that resulted in him and his models being regular guests of the clap clinic) don’t for a minute think that there weren’t unpleasant females taking sexual advantage of women as well. There is an extremely well known British actress, adored and assumed heterosexual by the public, who backstage was Sybil Waite verbatim back then and a known threat to young actresses and female models. No doubt something similar to “all the models have to wear copper plated pants, she’s as les as they come” has been said many times behind the person in question’s back.
Should that particular national treasure ever be exposed as the sexual predator she really is, it would be interesting to see if one of the knock on effects were that people started to regard Virgin Witch as a warning from history that nobody took notice of. In the same way that Val Guest’s film Au Pair Girls is now starting to take on the appearance of a warning from history with regards to the very Stuart Hall-esque character that John Standing plays in that film.
Adair’s films may unmistakably be products of their time but there is a tortured conservatism hiding away in her work that often feels at odds with the era. Anything that steps out of the confines of heterosexual monogamy and marriage is either a cause for concern or comedy fodder in Adair’s films. Early on in Virgin Witch there is a scene where Betty and Christine have a giggle at the expense of the fetish adverts placed in a corner shop’s window. A scene that is expanded upon for Adair’s Can You Keep It Up For A Week. A film that likewise laughs at the sexual tastes of others, and finds its accident prone hero (played by Jeremy ‘Boba Fett’ Bulloch) fumbling his way through a storyline involving a comic relief roll call of adulterers, hypersexual housewives, male streakers, limb wristed gays and assorted swingers.
The Bulloch character’s motivation- to keep a job for a week so that his girlfriend will marry him and at the same time having to frequently rescue her from the sexual advances of others- is a notably straight laced and chaste premise for a 1970s British sex comedy. To her credit Adair was much more colour blind than her contemporaries, an online bio righty praises her as the writer of “the first black and white kiss on world television” and that progressive attitude towards race continues on into her sex film work. Virgin Witch features an (admittedly strained) relationship between a white man and a black woman, and Clinic Xclusive and Can You Keep It Up For A Week have no qualms about undressing black cast members with the same enthusiasm as white ones.
Perhaps due to the fact that Adair herself was middle aged when she made these films and possibly felt that women of her own age had the same right to be erotised onscreen as younger women, her films aren’t as age restrictive as the British sex films made by men. Whereas the films made by men only tended to focus on the sort of twenty something actresses they’d like to get into the knickers of off-screen, Virgin Witch cast members Neil Hallett and Patricia Haines were in their late thirties and early forties when they undressed for the film, Carmen Silvera was in her late forties when she did likewise for Clinic Xclusive and lesser known cast members seem to have been into their sixties maybe even seventies when they bared all for these two films. Adair’s films are in wholehearted agreement with the belief of the Lynn Lowry character in Shivers that “even old flesh is erotic flesh”.
Adair’s take on men is where Virgin Witch becomes a film of mixed messages, as noted females hold all the real positions of power in this film, yet the erosive effect this has on masculinity isn’t something that this film celebrates. The two men that the film partners Betty and Christine up with fall well below the standard that ‘real men’ were meant to measure up to in the 1970s, and the film never lets up criticising them for it. Johnny may present himself as a flash, self-made man about town- entering the film by giving the sisters a ride in his fancy mustang convertible- but the film doesn’t let him pull the wool over her eyes for long. Even before the car journey is at an end, a bracelet inscribed ‘from Abbey’ gives the game away about him being a taken man who is driving about in a car, and wearing a bracelet that a wealthy girlfriend bought for him. The shame of being a kept man, of driving a car a woman really owns, of wearing a bracelet that acts as Abbey’s brand on him, haunts Johnny throughout the film. Christine’s paramour Peter is similarly introduced as another sorry excuse for a man. A nervous wreck, Peter is tormented by the idea that his heterosexuality will antagonise the dreaded Sybil and does his best to fight against his feelings for Christine. So successful is Sybil in her emasculation of Peter that his real sexual persuasion even comes as a surprise to her “I was quite sure he was queer” she tells Gerald. Given her films feelings toward lesbians, being mistaken for ‘Un Ami De Dorothy’ must be considered the greatest insult Adair could throw in the direction of a straight man.
The plot of Virgin Witch necessitates that Johnny and Peter assert themselves as men, and reconnect with their red blooded side. Johnny has to emerge from under the thumb of Abbey. Peter has to form an allegiance with Christine and take a stand against Sybil. “She’s a normal, healthy girl” he protests after it becomes clear Sybil has designs on Christine. There is a lot of deceptive subplot concerning Johnny trying to search for Christine and Betty. He revisits the apartment he put them up in to look for clues to their whereabouts, finds an address for Sybil’s studio, breaks into Sybil’s studio, has little luck there but later runs into two female cyclists who he recognises from the nude photos he saw in Sybil’s studio and finally gets the location for Wychwold out of them.
So you can’t fault Johnny when it comes to doing his detective work, and as with Scatman Crothers’ character in The Shining we join him on a long protracted journey to the central location of the film, under the mistaken belief that he will turn out to be the knight in shining armour of the piece. Johnny’s attempted heroics aren’t as dramatically curtailed as Scatman Crother’s are in The Shining, still the term ‘wasted journey’ comes to mind when after all that effort he finally shows up at Wychwold only to get quickly shooed away by Betty and called a “cheap little ponce” by Christine to boot. Natch, Christine has a change of heart soon after and uses her psychic powers to force him to drive all the way back to Wychwold and play a minor role in her plan to become high priestess after all. Women can be strange, indecisive creatures at times, fellas. The end of the film sees all the male characters, Gerald, Johnny and Peter all accept Christine as their new leader by slavishly following after her and away from the body of the now deceased Sybil. In this film men loved to be led by a woman.
Virgin Witch didn’t exactly have a trouble free journey to the big screen. Filmed at some point during 1970, it was previewed in the December 1970 issues of Mayfair and Continental Film Review (where for the record its title was referred to as ‘The Virgin Witch’) only for censorship hassles to throw a spanner in the works of its release. Rejected outright by the British censor in April 1971, the film subsequently managed to have a small release when the GLC passed it for an X-cert release in London. It wouldn’t be until 1972 that the British censor relented and passed a cut version of the film for general release in January of that year. However the censor related delay must surely have damaged if not rendered useless any immediate publicity generated by the Mayfair and Continental Film Review pieces, as well as the 1971 ‘Klaus Vogel’ novelisation, in light of it being nearly two years later before the majority of the public could finally see the film.
As the many who’ve tried over the years will attest, attempting to put yourself behind the eyes of a British censor and make sense of some of their decisions can be a tough task. I suppose the film could have caused the censor a few brow furrowing exercises due to its rather laid back attitude towards the occult, becoming mixed up with the witches coven is shown to be an empowering experience for Christine, and there is precious little finger waiving going on over the coven’s orgiastic group sex actives here either. Nor does Virgin Witch tow the traditional line of horrorpixs by demanding that a price needs to be paid for dabbling in the occult. Lest we forget that Ann Michelle’s character and her biker chums all got turned to stone at the end of Psychomania for that very reason, but there are no such consequences for her character using occult forces and committing murder here.
More realistically though, the real reason for the censor ban on Virgin Witch was likely that it was one of the earliest British films they’d been faced with that made no bones about being a purely titillation film. To them Virgin Witch would have represented a new breed of British films that no longer felt they had to justify themselves to the censor over their heavy use of nudity. By putting a block on the film’s release the censor probably thought they still had a chance to prevent out and out sexploitation from establishing itself as a film genre in Britain, and prevent full frontal female nudity and simulated sex from becoming commonplace in British cinema, both of which they failed miserable from happening. By 1972, the decision to ban the film must already have appeared archaic, taking into account that during the two years in-between the censor had been faced with passing far more controversial and confrontational films like Straw Dogs and The Devils.
Time certainly waits for no man, or woman, in the British exploitation film world, and by the time Virgin Witch was finally let loose in 1972, Adair had already written Clinic Xclusive and teamed up with wrestling commentator Kent Walton to produce the film under the joint ‘Elton Hawke’ pseudonym. Cinema X magazine wasted no time in exposing the duo behind the Elton Hawke name, their real identities inspiring Cinema X to quip in 1972 that Clinic Xclusive is ‘far removed from Miss Adair’s more cosy world of Crossroads, but not in fact so far removed from Walton’s world of the wrestling mat’. It wouldn’t be until 1975 however that Adair and Walton’s involvement in sexploitation films became widely known after the duo were interviewed by the BBC’s Man Alive programme, in an episode that profiled the major players in the British sex film world.
You do probably have to see what Hazel Adair looked like to truly comprehend just why people were so shocked and rendered incredulous that she was the brains behind Virgin Witch and Can You Keep It Up For A Week. It wasn’t merely that Adair was a woman; it is what sort of woman she was. I must confess that for many years after watching Virgin Witch I had held onto the idea that Adair would herself turn out to look like the Sybil Waite character, a tall, dark haired tough cookie, only to discover through the Man Alive episode that Adair was this ‘cuddly granny’ type, closer in looks to Irene Handl or Mrs. Mills than Virgin Witch’s Patricia Haines. In the episode itself Adair, like many of the participants, plays the reluctant pornographer card, refusing to take responsibly for her own actions, placing the blame on Joe Public for flocking to see the likes of Can You Keep It Up for A Week, when of course M’Lady would rather be making innocuous films. “I’d much rather make all sorts of films, particularly I want to make children’s films, but unfortunately they don’t pay, that’s why we find people complaining that they’ve got nowhere to take their children to during the school holidays” she told Man Alive reporter John Pitman.
Personally, I don’t buy into Adair’s ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ attitude and appearance. The shooting of explicit additional footage for the export version of her 1976 film Keep It Up Downstairs, as well as the casting of Tony Kenyon and Mary Millington in that film, do alone suggest that Adair was no stranger to hard-core pornography.
The Virgin Witch's Mother: Hazel Adair in 1975
My feelings towards Hazel Adair’s films are similar to my feelings towards Derek Ford’s 1970s output. Their late 1970s sex films come across as impersonal and played strictly for dumb laughs, whereas the early 1970s ones are darker, often psychologically revealing, and thus have a bigger hold on me.
Adair might have had a superior flare for sex comedy than Ford, but in her earlier films sex is bad, sex can get you into trouble, sex is a human failing that is there for despicable persons to swoop down on and exploit. In Clinic Xclusive, Sybil Waite’s characteristics get shared equally between two of the characters, Elsa Farson (Carmen Silvera) inherits the weak, vulnerable aspects of that character, whose lesbianism and unreciprocated love for a younger woman leads to her doom. Julie (Georgina Ward) the object of her affection is a continuation of the power abusing, unscrupulous side of Sybil Waite.
Both Sybil and Julie outwardly despise the sexual permissiveness that surrounds them. “Keep your filthy paws off her” Sybil hollers at Peter after catching him making out with Christine. Julie –a masseuse who throws kinky sex her clients way and then blackmails them- constantly flashes back to her childhood sexual abuse during her sessions with her clients, giving her an emotional detachment from the clients that allows her to blackmail the poor bastards without it pricking her conscience.
Yet it is sex that leads to both these characters’ downfall. The moment either Sybil or Julie show even the slightest flicker of emotion or erotic desire for another person, is when they reveal their weak spot, their bronze plug in the ankle of Talos, that causes these otherwise cold and sociopathic characters to themselves be used, manipulated and come crashing down. Never is Adair’s soap opera background more obvious than in these audience appeasing climaxes that demand these immoral characters receive a terminal taste of their own medicine. What goes around always comes around in the early films of Hazel Adair.