Back in 1970 this allegedly ‘serious’ documentary about witchcraft sneaked a lot of full frontal nudity past the British censor and was then screened in sex cinemas for the enjoyment of the dirty raincoat brigade. It acts as a kind of companion piece to Derek Ford’s Secret Rites, since both feature Alex Sanders (as, indeed, does Angeli bianchi, angeli neri AKA Witchcraft 70, but that’s an Italian mondo movie not an English ‘documentary’). As the self-styled King of the Swingers (oops, sorry, I mean witches), Sanders camps it up as much here as he does elsewhere; unfortunately there’s a lot less of his rib-ticklingly softly spoken voice than in Ford’s short.
If the late Alex Sanders actually had any ‘occult powers’ then I’m The Queen of Sheba (and no doubt there are plenty of Alexandrian Wiccans out there prepared to assert that I was indeed Sheba in a previous incarnation). Nonetheless, Alex and his coven of nubile young wenches (there are an equal number of considerably less attractive men) dancing naked around fires and performing (simulated) sex magick, are a psychedelic groove sensation. The bad news is that this movie is 72 minutes long and way too much of its running time is devoted to other shit.
Before we get to the self-evidently fake stuff with Alex, there is a load of Margaret Murrayesque bollocks about the supposed survival of the ancient pagan religions of Europe right through the Christian era to the modern day, which is delivered as a voice-over to a few interesting and innumerable dull visual illustrations. Anyone who knows anything about the actual history of European witch trials, will appreciate that the claims of Murray and her followers are complete cobblers. Less informed viewers may take these claims at face value, since the voice-over sounds authoritative, but believe me (actually don’t, go and read up on it), it isn’t!
Anyway, back to Alex, he was obviously an obliging bloke who’d do whatever it took to get into a film. So here you have a witch initiation ceremony that mirrors aspects of Christian baptism (because the alleged survival of the ‘old religion’ is Malcolm Leigh’s obsession) and it looks rather different to the way the Sanders’ coven does supposedly the same thing for Derek Ford. That said, there is still plenty of nudity, bondage, whipping, and other borderline sexual thrills – so if you belong to the real army of the night (the dirty raincoat brigade) fear not, you’ll get your jollies! However, things get even groovier when we move onto scrying, where we have psychedelic hypnotic-patterns flashed across the screen – it’s a total trip, and wouldn’t have looked out of place in a hip 1960s horror flick like The Sorcerers.
Since director Malcolm Leigh is obsessed with the parallels between Christian and pagan rituals, Sanders also obliges him with a black mass; except, of course, this looks nothing like any black mass you’ve ever seen (such as the one in Ray Laurent’s Satanis, a 1970 documentary about Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan). Alex Sanders may be a showbiz sell-out but he’s both sweeter and considerably less of a flake than LaVey. While LaVey appears to have been no more than a huckster, these days so-called Satanism (in reality it is just Christianity in a mildly inverted form) seems to act as a magnet for kiddie-fiddlers and related low-life scum. Sanders, by way of contrast, is great entertainment. It’ s well worth grabbing a copy of Legend of the Witches just for the footage of Alex and his coven acting out their fantasies for the entertainment of dirty old men!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!