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The Witches Blu-ray Review

6 min read

I don’t think “witch” means what you think it means, Dino.

What They Say:
In the mid-sixties, famed producer Dino De Laurentiis brought together the talents of five celebrated Italian directors for an anthology film. Their brief was simple: to direct an episode in which Silvana Mangano (Bitter Rice, Ludwig) plays a witch.

Luchino Visconti (Ossessione, Death in Venice) and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (Bicycle Thieves) open the film with The Witch Burned Alive, about a famous actress and a drunken evening that leads to unpleasant revelations. Civic Sense is a lightly comic interlude from Mauro Bolognini (The Lady of the Camelias) with a dark conclusion, and The Earth as Seen from the Moon sees Italian comedy legend Totò team up with Pier Paolo Pasolini (Theorem) for the first time for a tale of matrimony and a red-headed father and son. Franco Rosso (The Woman in the Painting) concocts a story of revenge in The Sicilian’s Wife, while Vittorio De Sica (Shoeshine) casts Clint Eastwood as Mangano’s estranged husband in An Evening Like the Others, concluding The Witches with a stunning homage to Italian comic books.

The Review:
With the exception of an alternate English track for the segment “An Evening Like the Others,” the film only has the original Italian mono uncompressed LPCM audio. Given that I spend far more attention to what I’m seeing than what I’m hearing when I watch subtitled films, that wasn’t an issue for me, but sound snobs might not be too happy. Obviously, English subtitles are provided for non-Italian speakers.

Arrow did a 2K restoration of the original print, and it does look gorgeous. There were no issues with the video quality that I could see.

I received a screener, so I don’t have any information on the packaging.

I know I say this every time I review an Arrow Video release, but the menu is amazing. The film’s title occupies the lower lefthand portion of the screen and the options reside under it. The option selected shows up in a nice, white font, while the others are grayed out. The movie’s opening title sequence along with various scenes from the film play on a loop with groovy Sixties music playing in the background.

Pretty decent extras here:

Brand-new audio commentary by film critic and novelist Tim Lucas
Interview with actor Ninetto Davoli, recorded exclusively for this release
English-language version of Vittorio De Sica’s episode, An Evening Like the Others, starring Clint Eastwood
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Pasquale Iannone and Kat Ellinger

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I watched this movie a couple days ago, so let me go over my notes:

–“The opening is so 60s it makes my face hurt.”

–Quote: “I want to celebrate the 10th anniversary of your husband’s infidelity.”

–“Sex is recommended for insomnias and toothaches. Good to know.”

All of that came from the first segment, because by the time that was over my notes were simply “Whut?” I half-jokingly considered showing it to my friend from Italy to see if he understood it better, figuring that I might just be too ‘Murrican to get it. I didn’t do that. Instead, I did the next best thing: research.

Thank goodness for commentary tracks! I watched the movie twice: first with no commentary and second with commentary, and the movie made a whole lot more sense after that. I’ll try to run you through the basic idea here: the famous Italian producer Dino “When monkey die, everybody cry” de Laurentis wanted a movie to showcase the talent of his wife Silvana Mangano, so he put together an anthology flick written and directed by some of the hottest talent working in Italian cinema. Other than Mangano, the only thematic thread tying the various segments together is the concept of the “Witch.” However, the movie takes such a loose interpretation of the word that it holds no real meaning. I spent the first forty minutes waiting for a spell or even a damn black cat to show up, but nothing doing. Dino could have called this The Woman and it would have worked just as well—maybe even better, considering a casual viewer thinking they were getting a fun Italian exploitation movie would less likely be disappointed in what they got.

But I digress. The movie tells five different stories of varying lengths. The first is about an actress who wants to quit the life and have a child, but her dirtbag husband/producer refuses to accept her decision (this one is almost painfully biographical considering what I learned of Mangano’s life from the commentary). The second is a short one where Mangano picks up a man wounded in a traffic accident, but takes him someplace other than the hospital. The third one was the most confusing, but ended up being my favorite. It’s about a father and son who lose their mother and go off in search of a new one. Mangano plays a mute woman with sea-green hair and does her best acting in it, in my opinion. The fourth one is also short, but it actually has a dang witch in it, so that’s good. The fifth one shows Mangano as a bored housewife who spends most of her time daydreaming about leaving her husband for hot guys, including the Italian comic book character Diabolique. That one is pretty interesting because a very young Clint Eastwood plays the milquetoast husband.

In full disclosure, I didn’t quite know what I was getting into when I requested this movie. I was on a horror kick and my thought process went little beyond “Cool! Dino did a movie about witches. That should be fun!” Obviously, it didn’t turn out the way I thought, but that’s not such a bad thing. I don’t know that I’ll ever watch it again, but if you’re in the right mindframe or are a lover of Italian cinema then there’s probably a great deal here for you to like.

Thankfully, Mangano is a very good actress. Any time you hear “the producer made the movie to showcase the talent of his wife” you cringe a bit, because, well, often the wife has very little talent. Mangano is talented, able to slip into her roles easily and make them distinct from each other. As I said before, the third segment was my favorite, and it showcased her acting talent the best. Mangano played a mute woman, and had to use her eyes, her face, and her body to tell the story. That’s not an easy thing to do by any stretch, and the best actors, in my opinion, are the ones who subtly use their bodies. The worst are the ones who let the dialogue do all the work. Mangano is funny, sad, charming, and beautiful in an ethereal way, and it all comes through without a single line of dialogue.

In Summary:
I won’t go so far as to say that The Witches is a good movie, but it’s certainly an interesting one that’s well worth your time if you’re tastes skew to art house and foreign flicks. Just make sure you do your research before you watch it, you dig? Dr. J gives this a….

Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: A+
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Arrow Video
Release Date: January 9th, 2018
MSRP: $34.95
Running Time: 121 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Review Equipment:
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection

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