“The Witch Who Came From The Sea”: Matt Cimber’s razor-sharp psychodrama was a cult hit

By on January 11, 2018

One of the more unusual genre-defying cult films we’ve got streaming over on Night Flight Plus is The Witch Who Came From The Sea (1976), director Matt Cimber’s razor-sharp psychodrama about Molly, a troubled woman who “really knows how to cut men down to size.”


Right from the beginning of The Witch Who Came From the Sea — shot in 1971, but not shown theatrically until 1976 — it’s apparent that something is clearly off with Molly (Millie Perkins).

We see — in her odd fantasy sequences that end in gruesome death scenes — how she focuses in on the bulging muscles and crotches of several musclebound Venice Beach athletes before they end up choking and being smashed by heavy barbell weights.


The hazy, daydreamy ’70s vibe of the coastline — courtesy of cinematographer Dean Cundey, who has also lensed the Back to the Future trilogy, Steve Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, and several of John Carpenter’s best films — only adds to her psychedelic-tinged reveries.

Molly also has flashbacks of her seafaring fisherman father (John Goff), who was reported lost at sea, although we soon learn from Molly’s sister Cathy (Vanessa Brown) that dear old Dad was actually a horrible drunkard who raped and abused Molly when she was just a child.


As Molly begins to recover lost memories of her traumatic childhood, her grip on reality begins to slip away in a spiral of madness and murder, exacting her bloody revenge on muscular men who remind her of her brutish sailor father.

Soon, Molly is transfixed and mesmerized with these athletic jocks — including a couple of NFL football players — seducing them into weird S&M sexual trysts, tying them up in “sailor” knots and fucking them both before castrating each with a razor.

There’s also a great scene where Molly gets a tattoo of a mermaid from Jack Dracula (the great Stan Ross, who you may recognize from the crazy party scene in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls).


Molly only finds quiet solace in television before she’s triggered by the handsome news anchors and men appearing in TV commercials — one of which is actually an advert for razor blades — and then some of the men in her fantasies begin showing up dead, as we begin to hear radio reports.

Soon, police detectives Beardsley (Richard Kennedy) and Stone (George Buck Flower) want to know if Molly’s responsible for a string of mutilation sex murders that have been baffling them for months before the story ends with Molly taking matters into her own hands to resolve the violence.


Read more about The Witch Who Came From the Sea below.


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Director Matt Cimber — born Thomas Vitale Ottaviano — is known in some circles for marrying iconic Hollywood bombshell actress Jayne Mansfield (his third wife), who convinced him to move west to Los Angeles in order to find work in the film business.

That move eventually led to him directing nineteen features, most of which could be considered exploitation films of one type or another, including several softcore sex films, all of which were presented as sex-ed “documentaries.

Cimber also wrote and directed Single Room Furnished as a project for Mansfield, which turned out to be her last film, released posthumously, and one certifiable camp classic, 1982’s Butterfly, starring Pia Zadora.

He also created the smash TV series “GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” which lasted for four seasons.


Millie Perkins hadn’t studied to be an actress and was working as a model in the late 1950s when director George Stevens cast her in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), making her film debut in the title role.

A promising young Hollywood starlet, she ended up with a 20th Century Fox contract, but mostly appeared in minor film roles.


In 1965, she starred in two westerns, directed by Monte Hellman and featuring Jack Nicholson  — The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind -- which were filmed simultaneously deep in the Utah desert scrub for a total budget of $150,000.

Perkins — Hellman’s next-door neighbor at the time — is particularly good in The Shooting as the nameless, black glove-wearing woman who hires Warren Oates’ character to kill a man they’re pursuing on horseback.


The screenplay for 1976’s The Witch Who Came From the Sea, was written by Perkin’s then-husband Robert Thom, who had written the part for his wife while in a hospital bed while suffering from pneumonia (unfortunately, they would break up before the film’s production wrapped).

Thom directed just one film from his own screenplay, 1969’s Angel, Angel, Down We Go, but he wrote lots of exploitation-rich screenplays, for memorable movies like Wild In The Streets and Death Race 2000.


The colorful illustration on film’s original movie poster — featuring a naked cape-wearing witch charging up from the raging tides with a bearded man’s severed head in one hand and a bloody scythe in another, a yellow snake coiling around her arm — may be one reason some the film ended up on the UK’s list of “Video Nasties” back in the 1980s.

In 1983, The Witch Who Came From the Sea was one of the 72 video releases that the British government declared — with encouragement from powerful Christian watchdog groups — not suitable for sale or rent in UK video stores.

(The title also ended up in a sub-group of 33 titles which were eventually dropped from the “Video Nasties” list, but by then the damage had already been done).

Watch The Witch Who Came From The Sea on Night Flight Plus!


About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.