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Interview with Matt Cimber (The Witch Who Came From the Sea)

Matt Cimber’s long and prolific career has seen the filmmaker follow many current trends and experiment with numerous styles and genres, commencing in the 1960s as the theatre director of off-Broadway shows in New York City. Born Thomas Vitale Ottaviano, Cimber gained considerable acclaim through his stage plays and it would be in the summer of 1964 while directing a production of William Inge’s Bus Stop at the Yonkers Playhouse that he would fall in love with his leading lady, Jayne Mansfield. The two would remain married for just two years, but sadly Mansfield would pass away in 1967 at the age of just thirty-four.

Never one to shy away from controversy, Cimber challenged the censors throughout the 1970s with a string of sexually-charged pictures and blaxploitation flicks that included The Black 6. But it would be 1976’s The Witch Who Came from the Sea which, almost a decade after its release, would find itself the target of the British government and media when it was labelled a video nasty alongside the likes of Cannibal Holocaust and The Driller Killer.

Matt Cimber talks about his thoughts on the notoriety caused by the movie.

What kind of themes did you intend to explore with The Witch Who Came from the Sea and what emotions were you hoping evoke from the viewer?

That horrible acts inflicted on children eventually can take them down a twisted and confused path of violence as adults. While the viciousness of her acts towards men in certain sexual circumstances is gruesome and unforgivable, there are still parts of her personality that shower love and affection to those she thinks she can trust. Her attachment and love for the two children is real and undeniable.

If she didn’t possess that feature in her character then she would have been exploited as a Jack the Ripper or Hannibal Lecter on screen. I think that’s the element that disturbs people most about the film. She is so likeable and the viewer wants to hate her so much. That was the genius of Robert Thorn’s script.

Why do you feel the movie caused such a reaction? Were you expecting for it to encounter any controversy and how did you feel about your work being classified as a video nasty?

Because it tool the audience right into the horror. Keep in mind that at the time the film came out, audiences still believed Rock Hudson wanted to go to bed with Doris Day. While theatre goers experienced horror on the screen, they rarely believed that possibly members of their own families could be at the root of these aberrations. When the film went before the MPAA for a rating (I had to make a few cuts for an R), two women on the board scolded me with ‘subjects like this have no place in movies.’ It was 1974!

The Witch Who Came From the Sea

The Witch Who Came From the Sea

Was the movie, the filmmakers or the distributors prosecuted in Britain, as several films were successfully prosecuted as video nasties at that time?

No one to my knowledge was prosecuted for the film. It was banned in the UK and was not shown, till the ban was dropped recently and Anchor Bay had a successful DVD release. I think what is really nasty is British and American boys dying every day uselessly.

Do you feel the movie has received the recognition it deserves and are you proud of what you achieved? Did The Witch Who Came from the Sea finally find its audience after being lost for so long?

The film won best retro at a festival in Vancouver and at another festival in Olympia, Washington. 1,500 college students at a midnite screening – expecting a typical horror film – sat engrossed in the film and you could hear a pin drop in the last ten minutes. It was quite a Q&A afterwards.

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