Synopsis of Legend of the Witches
The documentary Legend of the Witches gives an insight into witchcraft in Great Britain in the late 60's/early 70's. It covers the whole range from the beginnings, the persecution of witches in the Middle Ages to the rituals still practiced today. Highlights include a visit to a witch museum and scientific research into paranormal phenomena in a supposedly cursed house.
The pseudo-documentary about witches tries to give the viewer an insight into the rituals and customs, but increasingly the feeling creeps up on you that the excessive display of naked people dancing around a campfire is not only due to a documentary treatment. The witches' coven of Alex Sanders, an English occultist who gained popularity in the 60's and 70's through his profound knowledge of witchcraft, is also involved. What the film lacks a bit is a guiding vision. The historical observation of witchcraft is somewhat missed out, instead there are unusual digressions, be it into the witch museum, the haunted house or into parapsychology. If you watch the film with a slight wink, you can certainly have fun with this nostalgic pseudo-documentary. You just shouldn't take what you see too seriously resp. know how to classify it correctly.
Uncut version published in the BFI Flipside series
In the US, VCI released the cut US version of the film on DVD. Apart from a few short plot twists, the episode with the haunted house was hit particularly hard. Almost six minutes in which scientists try to find evidence for paranormal phenomena were cut out of the film. The assumption is that they wanted to streamline the film for the US audience and thus shortened the dry scientific episode with the haunted house. All the explicit scenes are included in the US version.
On October 14, 2019, coinciding with Halloween, the uncut version was released in the UK as part of the BFI Flipside series. Besides Legend of the Witches, Secret Rites is another documentary on the Blu-ray/DVD. Secret Rites deals mainly with the circle of Alex Sanders, in which a young woman wants to be included. With sexploitation expert Derek Ford in the director's chair, the portrayal of naked bodies is not lacking. Various short films complete the publication.
Runtimes: US DVD: 72:11 min. / UK DVD: 81:55 min. Both versions run at the same speed.
The US DVD by VCI was compared to the UK Blu-ray/DVD by BFI.
The Blu-ray starts with the X-Rated title card of the BBFC.
The waves can be heard earlier after that.
BD: 22 sec.
A longer black image follows in the BD after the title insertion.
Instead, the DVD shows the moon earlier.
BD: 3 sec.
DVD: 3 sec.
There are more landscape shots on the Blu-ray after the narrator told us that the moon Diana only discovered reflections of herself.
The moon can be seen a little earlier in the next shot.
BD: 56 sec.
The sunrise can be seen longer.
Further landscape shots follow while the speaker can be heard.
Speaker: "The moon, Diana, and the sun, Lucifer, loved each other. The fruit of this love, were the sky and the Earth, water, and fire, forests and plants, birds, fishes, and animals."
BD: 1:02 min.
More stones can be seen as the speaker discusses their meaning.
Speaker: "To the gods, for the chiefs, great warriors, poets, musicians, and artists, a stone was raised. A stone with has given them greater immortality than their gods."
BD: 28 sec.
One of the witches checks if novice Michael is tied up properly in another shot.
BD: 3 sec.
The sunrise after the initiation ceremony can be seen longer. A cut on the trees follows.
BD: 22 sec.
The pregnant woman in the meadow can be seen a little longer after the speaker has talked about the torture.
The ritual starts a little earlier in the next shot.
BD: 4 sec.
The bewitched dolls in the museum can be seen longer.
The picture is shown earlier in the next shot.
BD: 13 sec.
After the black mass, the Blu-ray shows a longer sequence in which supernatural phenomena are studied by scientists.
Speaker: "As part of a scientific investigation into these claims, this haunted house has become the centre of operations."
Woman: "I was going into the big bedroom one day, heard a rustle of silk and looked out and saw a nice old lady, in a lovely red silk dress, all hand-painted. A nice little lady."
Woman: "And I was all dumbstruck, just to the right of the window. Before she went after that, I don't know.
The girl looks around the room.
Speaker: "A girl, claiming to be sensitive to these unknown forces, is left alone in the most haunted room. Pictures have been hurled from the wall and the furniture turned upside down.
Two scientists are led into the house by the woman.
Speaker: "Equipment to detect a whole spectrum of known forces is brought inside."
The girl sits down on a chair in the room. One of the scientists places a measuring device.
Speaker: "One of the most common features of hauntin is a sudden drop in temperature and intense cold. So, where this sensation has been felt, sensitive thermometers are placed.
In another room, measuring devices are placed.
Speaker: "Another girls is to be left alone in this bedroom. Interestingly, as in witchcraft, women play a major part. More thermometers and other detectors are installed in the room with her, and connected to recording instruments outside. A ghost is supposed to begin its walk from this room continue down this corridor up the stairs finally arriving in the bedroom. "Some strange, inexplicable results have been obtained and are being studied."
With wooden sticks on a disc, the scientists try to establish contact with the afterlife.
Speaker: "As well as collection scientific data, direct contact with spirits is sought. With this redesigned Ouija board, some extraordinary messages have been spelled out. Assuming the reality of these events, one of the most important things to do is to find out which people are sensitive to them and how why they are sensitive.
Several dice are rolled on a table. Cards are then dealt and a woman is tested.
Speaker: "Tests have been advised using dice and cards. The subject tries to write down which dice will come up, or which card the tester is looking at. Their scores are kept and compared with chance guessing. Some scores have been so high, that they cannot be explained away by chance alone. Some other, at present unknown factor, is at work. The metronome serves both to diminish the effect of sudden distracting noises, and also to give an undertow of rhythm."
BD: 5:50 min.
The Blu-ray is again cutting back and forth between the turntable and the fire.
The woman in front of the turntable can be seen a little earlier.
BD: 6 sec.
The credits are a bit longer on the Blu-ray.
BD: 13 sec.