This blog has a long-standing fondness for the very odd genre of the witchcraft-themed exploitation documentary which flourished (if that's the right word) in Britain in the early 70s. The occult revival held a prominent place in the popular British cinema of the 60s and 70s - while films like Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan's Claw have come to be regarded as classics today, few remember some of the lesser and trashier entries in the cycle, such as Ray Austin's Virgin Witch (72) (trailer here), Tigon's Curse of the Crimson Alter (69), and Norman J. Warren's 1976 classic of total schlock Satan's Slave (full film here).
Being so prevalent in the fictional cinema of the period, it is unsurprising that witchcraft also seeped into the seedier corners of British filmmaking. Now appearing quaint and incongruous, putative "documentaries" were often produced as a means of slipping copious nudity past the censor, these films finding a ready audience among the so-called "dirty mac" set in Soho sex cinemas. Several of these documentaries were made around the theme of the witchcraft revival, often featuring Alex and Maxine Sanders, whom I've blogged about before here. Shot mostly in the summer of 1969 and released in '70, Malcolm Leigh's Legend of the Witches is probably the Citizen Kane of witchploitation documentaries - however much that is worth. Although languorously edited and frequently tedious, Legend takes the subject of paganism far more seriously than most films of this type, and more surprisingly, it is often extremely well-made. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, Leigh's compositions are striking, and certain passages are undeniably atmospheric and eerie (to those who can't wade through the whole thing, I'd recommend watching the final 12 minutes or so as a highlight.) It's bizarre to consider how bored or cheated or baffled the dirty mac brigade must have felt about all this:
Witchploitation documentaries have recently made a surprising come-back as prime found footage for the video art of witch house and various other hipster sub-genres. Legend of the Witches provides the backdrop for Cosmotropia de Xam's beautiful, scary and brilliant video for (deep breath) Mater Suspiria Vision's ghost-drone remix of Crossover's I Know Your Face. Probably best avoided by those sensitive to strobing imagery and general freakouts: