Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Witch Returns To Life (1952) Rolan af Hallstrom

So, The Witch Returns to Life is just my second slice of Finnish horror, indeed just my second Finnish film outright, so far as I recall. I don't know whether the country has ever produced many horror films, but its presence even in the minds and collections of thorough going cult fans and explorers is pretty small, less even than the like of Poland or Yugoslavia. And alas on the evidence of this and earlier outing The White Reindeer I'm not surprised by the low profile. Not that The Witch Returns to Life is an outright bad film, in fact its actually rather charming. But it is odd and not necessarily in the popularly sanctioned ways that make cult favourites, I can well imagine a lot of disappointed viewers. 

The set up is solid, archaeologist Hannu is working in a marsh when he comes across an old grave with body staked through. Despite warnings he removes the stake, which I would have thought was a rookie mistake, what with damaging the body and all. But the body is apparently undamaged, and as a storm comes down a naked, very much alive lady is found in the same grave. Superstition and hysteria surge, and the mysterious lady (announcing herself as Birgit) wastes little time in stirring up lust and jealousy, working through the cast, feeling out and preying on division with playful menace. Much potential here for working on the rot of rural living, the peril of superstition, the battle of the sexes and related matters, but little is actually done with any of this. All is simple, the men think that all women are witches and the women think that all men are beasts. The leads are mostly housebound and the villagers mostly dumbly run around, the two have little interaction. And while some ambiguity to Birgit is hinted, this is dispelled by the matter of fact presentation of her powers. Basically this is a sort of parable, its simplicity, emphasis on exposition and slap yourself in the face ending could all be aimed at children. The effects too, almost entirely simple editing tricks which appeal to a primitive, undiscerning wonder. But then there's the dialogue, fairly frank on sex and infidelity, and enough nudity that this was originally touted as erotica in the States. A strange mix really, it should be jarring and offputting but somehow is more often than not simply good fun. Mirja Mane is most pleasing as Birgit, with a demeanour of shifting childlike innocence and crooked, dangerous sensuality she pulls events along nicely. The mounting mischief musters some suspense, chuckles and even mild creeps too, perhaps not especially intense or thrilling but at least quite engaging. Quality cinematography and plenty of fog and wind give this a far off, wistful atmosphere that is quite alluring, and it all moves like a rocket. 

Altogether I'm not sure how much appeal this will have to most viewers. A whole different world and different time, more for explorers than casual genre fans. But definitely of interest and merit and at least a little memorable. Not my heartiest recommendation, but if you're still here reading this it may be for you. Enjoy!

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