Monday, January 9, 2017

"It's Used to Talk to People Who Aren't Here" - Mark of the Witch (1970) - Part 2 of 3

This is Part 2 of our discussion of the 1970 film Mark of the Witch. You can read Part 1 here.

In our story, a group of college students attempted to perform a spell from a red book of witchcraft. Did it succeed? The answer is yes. What will happen next? Read on.

Nobody notices the changes in Jill. When Allen drives her home in the pouring rain, she asks, "Is this my home?" Allen thinks nothing of it.

In the next scene, Jill has returned to Professor Stuart's house, though she is not wet from the rain. He is letting his dog out into the backyard, despite the rain, lightning, and thunder. Jill is straightforward with the professor. "One acquires an almighty thirst in 321 years, Macintyre Stuart. Or has it been 322?"

The professor thinks she is play-acting to prove the spell was effective. She smiles. "Where's your dog?"

"In the yard," he replies.

"He's dead," says Jill--or rather, the witch possessing Jill. The professor steps outside to confirm the fact, offscreen.

The witch proves she is a witch by showing him the mark of the witch--an S-shaped birthmark that both the witch and Professor Stuart, whose ancestor was a witch, share.

The witch then describes her nefarious plan, over which she obsessed during her three centuries in hell. Her sinister plan is to learn the ways of the modern world. "To begin with," she asks, "what is that?"

"It's called a telephone," the professor explains with annoyance. "It's used to talk to people who aren't here."

The picture fades to black, the first act completed.

When the film fades back in, the witch who was Jill has learned much about the modern world. She has mastered turning off--and on--a table lamp.

Her murderous demeanor from the prologue has shifted to a mild delight that would not be out of place on an episode of Bewitched.

"You explain this to me,," she says when the professor offers to make some. "What is it used for?" He responds with a history of coffee houses through the ages.

The film has successfully shifted from an occult thriller to a light romantic comedy, establishing the beginnings of a love triangle between Allen, Professor Stuart, and the witch. When Allen finds the professor and the witch together, Stuart attempts to tell the truth, but manages to simply sound crazy. However, the witch is able to convince him by exploding the professor's parakeet.

(We must note here that the witch has brutally murdered two of Professor Stuart's pets.)

With Allen convinced, the witch continues her evil plan by memorizing Jill's class schedule and learning the layout of the campus so she can attend classes. "Even my second sight failed to tell me I would one day be a student in a college...and in a new world, at that."

When Jill goes to class, Professor Stuart explains to Allen that Stuart himself was responsible for Jill finding the red book, which had been his family's possession for years. His intention was to demonstrate the power of suggestion. "Needless to say, I never expected anything would happen."

"She's got us both over a barrel," Allen says. The witch is in possession of Jill, so they can't act against her.

Reasonably, Professor Stuart, convinced by the mark on his wrist, announces his attention to cultivate his own supernatural powers. They begin to read through the red book.

At night, the witch who was Jill dances in front of a small campfire in a grove of trees near campus. "Now will I call forth my coven, those 10 remaining steadfast in our vows. Now will I pursue our vengeance against he who betrayed us unto shameful death." She explains aloud that her coven will manifest one by one to carry out their revenge, and to complete their coven of 13 members.

(One of the ways the film keeps the audience on its collective toes is through ambiguity. Her plan must include more than vengeance against Macintyre Stuart, whom she could easily have killed earlier. We must keep viewing this powerful film to learn its true secrets.)

Allen meets Professor Stuart at a bar while the witch is busy in the grove. Allen wants to know if the professor really has powers. Stuart is not sure. "I have never in my life experienced any supernatural powers...never even won a bingo game." The professor's plan is to order books through interlibrary loan from Cornell, read said books, and find a spell to counter the witch's possession of Jill.

They both leave the bar urgently, without stopping to pay for their beers.

The professor returns to his home, where the witch seduces him, explaining they were lovers three centuries ago. "Have you considered that I might have an insatiable desire for my first demon lover?"


Macintyre Stuart does not resist.

Their love-making is approximately as clean-cut as the rest of the film, until Professor Stuart breaks it off, possibly due to guilt. He retreats to his bedroom.

The next day is the long-awaited day of the book fair. The witch, posing as Jill, attempts to seduce Harry, the loutish student from the seminar. He agrees to meet her at the grove at midnight.

Just before midnight, Harry arrives at the foggy grove of trees. The witch gives him a drink and he is immediately paralyzed. She forces him to recite a vow to give his body and soul to Satan.

Meanwhile, at Professor Stuart's home, Allen enters, worried. He thinks the witch took Harry, whose car was seen driving toward the stadium.

The professor thinks fast. "Where does Harry go to make out?"

"The grove," Allen says without thinking. They make a bee-line for the grove.

They find Harry's body. It is unclear if he is dead or near death, because he is clearly breathing. "Mac, let's get out of here," says Allen. "There's nothing we can do for the poor guy now and there's no way we're gonna explain this to the police." They hightail it out of the grove quickly.

Things are getting exciting now that murder has entered the picture. Will there be more murders? The answer is yes [spoiler]. Who will be murdered? Find out in Part 3 of our discussion of Mark of the Witch.