For an 80 minute movie, “Wicked Witches,” retitled from the ever-so-British “The Witches of Dumpling Farm,” certainly does dawdle along.
I had all but despaired of it ever getting up and running long before its nervy, stomach-churning chase and finale.
But what a finish!
Blood and guts yanked out with jagged teeth by women whose eyes are pools of the most spine-chilling black. It probably didn’t take much “pretending” for star Duncan Casey to shriek like a frightened girl, bellow like a man straining to get through not just the night but the next few seconds and scream like a hunted animal wailing at the prospect of never escaping the clutches of…those “Wicked Witches.”
The Bahamian-born Casey plays Irishman Mark, whom we meet as he yanks off his wedding band and drops it out of the car window.
He’s driving from the wrong side of the vehicle, which tells us he’s in Jolly Olde. A quick call to his mate from his days as a carefree bachelor ensures he’ll have a place to stay tonight.
But something in the way the wild-eyed Ian (Justin Marosa) says, “I’ll see you when you get here…MATE,” sets one’s teeth on edge. Not Mark’s, just “one’s.”
Mark and Ian used to hang on Dumpling Farm in Cambridgeshire, out in crop circle country on the B-roads a ways from town. But walking up on Ian, chopping wood and muttering in strange tongues, should be Mark’s second red alert.
Something has changed here. Ian, who still likes to get high, is a part of that something. Laughing maniacally while stoned is new to his repertoire.
Mark would love to host a “big party” at the place, and plans are made to round up the old gang. But these nightmares he’s having are turning into daymares. He sees bloodied women taking a bite out of men, and it’s keeping him up all night.
Yes, it’s definitely the nightmares, and not the blasts of beer and blow.
The party is where the strangers show up, a clutch of bombshells led by a woman nobody calls the high priestess (a feral Samantha Schnitzler) and including a spooky blonde beauty (Jasmine Clark) Mark has seen around town.
The effects are simple but chilling — the fake teeth, the blood, those damned “Blair Witch” Wiccan stick-models, the alarming close-ups, the isolating wide shots.
For all the efforts to inject humor belatedly into the third act, it’s the sheer terror of the situation and fear that there is no escape that drives characters’ reactions — which can be, even in the direst panic, funny.
I fret about actors’ unwillingness to let it all hang out when playing characters confronted with the supernatural and their own mortality. Duncan Casey puts on a clinic as to how far over-the-top reasonable human reactions to things that cannot be should be played.
The witches, Schnitzler and Clark, speaking with disembodied Satanic baritones, grow more frightening the longer the film goes on.
But the drawn-out chase, above and below ground, of the third act needed to begin earlier — much earlier. The Pickering Brothers’ debut feature spends too much time setting everything up. No, that first 55 minutes or so doesn’t give us deep insights to anyone. Mark is a womanizer, and is still friends with other womanizers. And…?
The picture shortchanges women in general and the witchy women who leave their brooms at home when they’re hunting in particular. No “ex,” no female friends at the party, just guests who show up, dominate the proceedings and submit to their animal feeding urges.
Still, “Wicked Witches” isn’t a total write-off. But when your movie’s this short, getting to the point, giving us “the good stuff” and all that jazz has got to happen earlier.
MPAA Rating: unrated, bloody violence, drug and alcohol abuse, profanity
Cast: Duncan Casey, Jasmine Clark, Samantha Schnitzler, Justin Marosa, Kitt Proudfoot
Credits: Written and directed by Martin Pickering and Mark Pickering. An Uncork’d Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:20