Ignorance about religious beliefs is one of those things that can range from hair raising and volatile to hilarious. A good example of the latter would be when one of my college friends received a double VHS set (and this was in the early 2000’s) about the Satanic evils of rock & roll music as a well intentioned gift from his parents. The list on the back of the tape mentioned the usual suspects but then made a point to name both Bow Wow Wow and Earth, Wind & Fire. This? Was hilarious to us and heck, it is still funny to me now. I can see parents being nervous about their impressionable fundie kids listening to Venom, but the band that sang Shining Star? Heaven knows that when I think of ole Scratch, 20 piece bands in shimmery outfits singing about love and happiness come instantly to mind. Anyways, speaking of Satan, the dark one’s name gets mentioned a LOT in the at times fascinating and unintentionally funny obscure Mondo-relic, Witchcraft ‘70.
Originally released as Angeli Bianchi….Angeli Neri or White Angels…..Black Angels, Witchcraft ‘70 plays like your middle-aged, space-age fabric pants wearing uncle trying to be hip and understanding all of those wacky things you kids are into. But because said uncle is a) more square than the “700 Club” and b) is about as covertly pervy as anyone on any 700 Club-esque show, his perceptions are going to be seriously off.
Any film that begins with such gloriously ham-boned narration as “Explore the naked truth about witchcraft” is going to give you very little truth but a healthy amount of the skin show. It gets better, with the narrator, veteran British character actor Edmund Purdom in all of his serious as the grave intonations, informing us that some of the footage was obtained due to the crew “steal (ing) our way into their black settings in attempts to observe Satan’s unspeakable and yet sometimes erotic rites.” Already, the film is painting a mental picture of the Devil being some mustachioed, smoking jacket wearing mofo who knows how to throw one helluva swinger’s party..
If you are in any way knowledgeable about non-traditional religious belief systems and have a weak sense of slack, then you might want to stop the film right here. The first segment, dealing with witchcraft, actually makes the statement that “witches believe in Satan like Christians believe in Christ.” Most witches don’t really believe in the Christian God, so worshiping the Christian Devil is going to be a tricky thing.
Cut to Capitola, California, a seaside tourist town and burgeoning hotspot for “hippies or hips.” The cameras talk to one Lt. David Estes, who is either a horrible actor or frighteningly real. The Lieutenant, who appears to have all the awareness and social insight of a dust mite living in the basement, states that the two main problems are “drugs” and “the spiritual revolution.” The latter basically means witchcraft, at least to this officer, who is then asked about the mutilated animals that have been found scattered across town. I like to think it was the local hippies messing with the guy, pointing at roadkill and saying it was due to “the spiritual revolution.”
After that scenic trip, the film goes to England, where the “practice of witchcraft is widely accepted,” which just screams dubious. It is here where we get to witness a “black mass.” (Cue up your Electric Wizard album and throw rotten meat at your neighbors!) The coven meet in an abandoned church, not out of any spiritual necessity, but just to toss a dash of “spice” into the mix. Black candles, black robes and enough darkness to invoke clove cigarette smoked fueled memories of hanging out at the local goth club, fill the area. They commence with a ritual celebrating the Greek God Pan, which for our narrator means only one thing….SATAN!!! Granted, I’m sure the two would make fantastic golfing buddies, but one in the same? I guess invoking “Satan” is far more ooky-spooky than the ancient deity of pleasure and fertility.
Of course, there’s the usual nudity, complete with the naked girl on the altar. Get used to this because it is going to come up a LOT. My personal favorite touch was, in an act of intentional sacrilege, they take the host, put it in a glass of wine and then throw the wine on the ground. It’s just so over dramatic and the Count Chocula style narration is not helping. The fact that the odds of this being a real coven are between zero to 1% doesn’t help, but it does heighten the amusement factor.
Also in England is a woman named Eleanor Bones, who preaches against Christianity in Hyde Park. For Eleanor, it’s not just a hobby but also a way to lure potential customers for her witchy wares. We then get a peak into her coven performing a ritual to conduct a spell to help out a sick man. Naturally, they get naked, though the fact that there’s a mixture of body types and not just slim, moderately attractive folks in their early 20’s might very well mean that this could be real. Maybe.
Next we go to Italy, where an older Italian woman channels the spirit of her dead nephew, the victim of an automobile accident. She uses him as a vessel to communicate with the dead, specifically others who have also died due to automobiles, and give messages to the grieving. This lady is more like a rogue Catholic, though more accurately, a rogue bullshit artist and seeing the throngs of weepy eyed lost villagers is no fun. But such is the way of the Mondo films, mixing the bitter with the sweet.
The hoodoo-voodoo is bound to come up in a film like this and come it does, with the setting being a warehouse in the middle of Louisiana. Thanks to a smiling paid informant and a hidden camera, we see the group worship “ the snake, zombie or the devil.” It’s religious confusion here on the Damballah ranch. Nobody, except for certain strains of horror film fans, worships zombies. Satan has nothing to do with voodoo either, unless you’re Pat Robertson. But all of this smug misinformation does give us some sweaty dancing, a voodoo queen serving some Tina Turner circa ‘67 realness, blood drinking and of course, nudity. There is also an animal sacrifice that is mercifully off screen.
After that, we get an occult wedding, footage from Brazil that looks like it was more than likely culled from an unrelated project, some European fundie Christians “casting the devil out” and more “ooga-booga” colonial nonsense.
Just as things are really petering out, here comes the Church of Satan founder himself, Anton LaVey. Like a breath of fresh air, LaVey’s segment is prefaced by some choice voice over lines, including “Some left their heart in San Francisco, but others have left their souls too.” Awesome. If there was ever a PSA for the Church of Satan, that line should totally be cribbed for it. We get a peek inside LaVey’s amazing black Victorian house, complete with secret bookshelves and a poster featuring the man pointing towards the camera with the script, “Satan Wants You!.” This poster should have been a fixture in every witchy head shop across North America, but we can all dare to dream.
A young couple approaches LaVey to perform a Satanic wedding for them. It’s not completely clear if they are all that aligned with the Church necessarily, but they are seeking his services due to a severe disillusionment with not only Judeo-Christian beliefs, but with the world around them. The service is everything you would expect. Black room, LaVey resplendent with horns and a nude buxotic on the altar. The narration soon turns snarky, referring to the Church of Satan parishioners as “bored” and “middle-aged.” Its seems unusually bitchy especially given the hijinks that have already been witnessed and commented on.
The film goes back to the Lieutenant who actually makes a statement saying that he believes that young people are becoming possessed by the Devil due to LSD. This moves smoothly into some more secretly recorded footage, this time of a hippie cult in California. All of this may sound sexy in a “make it witchy” kind of way, until you realize it’s basically a bunch of pseudo hippies hanging around a campfire and toking it up. It’s about as sinister looking as a Phish concert, but only half as evil.
Witchcraft ‘70 is a fascinating and high-tailed relic from an era where the dual forces of curiosity and fear were at a peak with matters of the occult. To the extent where The Occult Coloring Book not only existed but was reviewed in the legendary and short lived teenage groupie rag, Star, back in 1973, just three years after the release of this film. While its approach to alternative beliefs is as backwards as a political conversation at a Southern family reunion, it is an accidentally honest peek into the post-counter culture Pandora’s Box effect. That in itself is a positive thing and worst case scenario, it is a great film to share a healthy amount of libations with a loved one of your choosing.