The Witch-Cult Variations

An American Appalachian film from the 1930s, The Witch-Cult Variations (aka Stregheria) has been known to exist for some time to cinephiles of the obscure and fantastic. A paper print had been registered at the Library of Congress in 1931. This existed, for all practical purposes, as a series of photographs of each frame, supplied to the LOC, as was the custom in early cinema days, in order to secure copyright. This paper print, however, was either mis-filed or stolen sometime around 1936, and the only remaining images from the film come from the few scattered photo-frame-images that have been traded, collector to collector, for some eighty-odd years. The story the film tells involves a passageway in an interior wall of a barn in rural West Virginia, a passageway that leads to a vast, churning, blackened landscape that is cast under such a deep spell as to render those who traverse it memory-less. The protagonist–Emily–becomes obsessed with the threshold moment within the passageway where her memory and not-memory exist simultaneously. The effect on her is a vivid enthusiasm which (although the intentions of the filmmakers are of course lost and unknowable) seem an approximation of sexual ecstasy.  —E. Edgewood


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