During the 17th Century, the Lanier family buried a Whitlock woman alive as a witch to take over the Whitlock estate. Despite a bitter hatred, two descendants of the warring Lanier and Whitlock families Amy (Diane Clare) and Todd (David Weston), decide to marry. But when Bill Lanier (Jack Hedley) begins to renovate the old Whitlock Estate, a bulldozer overturns headstones and churns up graves in the old Whitlock Cemetery. Rising from an open grave, the buried witch Vanessa Whitlock (Yvette Rees) searches out Morgan Whitlock (Lon Chaney Jr.) to uses witchcraft to murder the despised Laniers - one by one….
This is a solid horror film directed by Don Sharp, who directed some of Hammer’s less spectacular projects in the mid-sixties. It is probably best known now because of the involvement of top-billed Lon Chaney as the monumental Morgan Whitlock, who delivers a big performance for his big character. Often one-note furious, Chaney casts a large shadow over his more mannered co-stars – it is unusual to see him surrounded by British faces (including ‘Plague of the Zombies’s Diane Clare), in the same way that seeing Boris Karloff onscreen with Christopher Lee in ‘Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)’ is a slightly surreal experience. Horror stars from different eras meeting has a charm all its own, and Chaney’s presence in picturesque, misty country scenes are pleasingly odd.
At this stage in his career, Chaney had a reputation for causing problems due to his excessive drinking. Apparently Sharp was very sympathetic to this and coaxed the best performance as he could from the veteran actor. Apart from addressing the character of Todd as (his girlfriend) Amy, Chaney is very good in a larger-than-life way.
My other favourite performance would have to be that of Vanessa Whitlock (Yvette Rees), the resurrected witch. She is creepily effective in all her scenes, particularly her first, when her appearance is slowly revealed as she is unearthed. Up until that point, this is quite a straight-laced film (in which Chaney’s performance stands out as being unrestrained) seemingly un-influenced by the blood-spattered horror revolution caused by Hammer in the late 1950’s. As events continue, however, things become progressively more manic folding with a spectacular finale.