FULL PLOT (warning, contains spoilers):
1645. England is in the grip of the most violent turmoil
of its history. Families are torn asunder as the bloodiest of civil wars heralds in
famine, hysteria and prophecies of the end of the world. In a remote Devon village,
desperate folk tend the fields in the hope that this will be the first harvest in so
many years to provide enough food to feed everyone. In an attempt to increase the
yield the villagers agree to plough the “cursed fields” outside the common land. In
doing so, they churn up all manner of diseased and rotten animal bones, along with
the stench of the devil.
In the days that follow a string of young men begin to act hysterically, exhibiting
maniacal rage and ravenous appetites. As more of the young men become afflicted,
the villagers become convinced that these young men have become possessed
by witchcraft, and that they must rid them of the curse. The men are bound inside
various outhouses whilst the villagers decide what is to be done.
As the hysteria increases, the affliction spreads to more of the young men and
women, and the squire calls a meeting in the village square. He proposes taking
the law into their own hands to prevent the village from becoming engulfed by evil.
He suggests to the villagers that he and his sergeant will interrogate, by lethal
bloody force if necessary, all those afflicted in order that they seek out the source
of the evil, so they can cut the bloodline on which the witchcraft has been feeding.
With the villagers in agreement and baying for blood, one lone voice, a preacher’s,
calls for them to listen to reason. The holy man suggests that the young people are
afflicted by a fever that has risen from the plough fields, and that they are not in
fact possessed by evil spirits, and implores the mob not to allow the afflicted to be
tortured. The preacher is shouted down by the squire, his sergeant and, in turn, the
rest of the villagers. The squire instructs the sergeant’s men to remove the preacher
and take him back to his home. With the preacher gone, the squire rouses the
villagers to join him to carry out the Lord’s work, so that the centre of the witchcraft
may be identified. The mob picks up knives and makeshift weapons and heads off to
the preacher’s home to begin the first of many murderous interrogations.
John Dear as the Preacher
Geoffrey Cooke as Squire Mason
Warren Davids as Sergeant Donne
Henny Nixon as Jed the ploughboy
Hutch Murphy as Mark the ploughman
Saul Barrow as Paul the farm labourer
Ringo Pardoner as gaoler O’Dell
Rosie-Lynn Dore as Rose
Gabrielle Jones as Maddy
Ruth McPatrick as Hazel
Ethel Bird as the cat woman
Jack Dovey as the blacksmith
Made in 1975 by British Liger
Directed by Roman Jay Burroughs
Written by Thomas Baxter
Fresh from the relative box office success of 1974’s The House That Cried Wolf,
British Liger commissioned this English Civil War era folk horror, handing the
directorial reigns to Roman J. Burrows. Burrow’s brief period as the enfant terrible of
the 1960s swinging British film scene had long since passed, and British Liger had
hoped Burrows' eye for commerciality and headline-grabbing shock, could elevate a
journeyman script into a profitable box office hit.
Burrows hands on approach, allied to the film’s sizeable budget, helped to secure an
enviable ensemble cast that included British horror regulars John Dear (fresh from
Gathering In The Season Of The Witch), Warren Davids (The Screams From The
Evil Grave) and Henny Nixon (Ghosts on Mopeds).
The fifteen week shoot included two month’s location shooting in the adjoining
villages of Berrywood and Ditchdale in the Devon countryside, with the remainder of
the shoot taking place at Whinny Studios on the banks of Bow Creek, London.
The Villagers received a limited cinema release late in 1975 when it was briefly
paired with the critically acclaimed, and superior, psychological thriller Creepy
Red Rain Jacket. The Villagers fared poorly in comparison, and even the most
evangelical reviewers seemed completely jaded by the level of (suggested) violence
at the heart of the movie. The Villagers was eventually pulled a mere six weeks after
its premier - as a direct result of a change of management at British Liger. The early
ending of the film’s run was believed by many of Liger’s employees to have cursed
the company. Indeed only two further films were made (One Bad Apple Tree and the
woeful Kill Them To Bloody Death) both of which were made on a shoestring budget
and yet failed to recoup at the box office, heralding the speedy demise of the once
vibrant independent company.