How could a 70’s British horror film that has the line “You are about to get disgustingly drunk” purred by Ava Gardner be bad?  If you’re talking about “Tam-Lin” (aka “The Devil’s Widow) then the answer is: its not bad at all.  Is it a great horror film?  No; in fact I’m not sure its even horror…But is it bad, not in the least.

It does have a slow start, and tends to meander on for most of the first hour, but then I think that’s part of the plan.  It tends to get you somewhat resigned to the fact that this is not going anywhere interesting…and then it does, and boy does it.  Director Roddy McDowall (yep, that Roddy McDowall from The Planet of the Apes fame, among many others, in his only directorial effort) keeps the pacing pretty consistent (slow), which again puts you under what is revealed to be a false sense that this stream is just going to trickle on for the last 25 minutes and end peacefully; but instead we get a major set of rapids and water falls before the end.  And a very psychedelic set of rapids at that.

But even before that point there are hints that this isn’t as simple a film as it may first seem on the cover: there’s a bit in the middle when the Tom Lynn character and Janet Ainsley meet at a stream that goes full stop motion on you.  If that doesn’t make you sit up and say “hang on” then you’ve probably already fallen asleep (which would be a shame).  And on the aforementioned psychedelic point, its worth noting that this was filmed in 1969 but not released until 1970, by which time the world had sorta moved on from some of the fashions and trends it captures, which was a definite negative when it was finally released, but which now is a major plus (it doesn’t feel dated, but more of a period peace).

And Ms Gardner is given some gems of lines to deliver in the way only she could.  My favorites are:

“You are going to get disgustingly drunk” (already noted)

In response to Tom Lynn (Ian McShane) asking “What are you going to do?” she respond with “I’m going to have you put down.  You don’t believe me? (she pauses, and then she begins again with) For love is kind, suffers long, and stews gently in its own sickening juice.  (another short pause, and then with a nice shrug and smile) Nothing except a theory.”

And finally when she’s told Tom Lynn to drink and he refuses: “I see I have to teach you as humanely as possible how to become a victim.  A victim ought to be empty of want response except humility and despair.  Nothing else is appropriate.”

One final thought I’ll share, because its an early 70’s British “horror” film, and because its based on a Scottish folk tale and set/filmed in Scotland, and because its soundtrack has some heavy folk tune influences, because of all that you might not have a hard time building an argument that “Tam-Lin” could be considered a distant (and slighlty older) cousin to The Wicker Man, and if you were to try to develop that argument I would be inclined to agree with you.

So try to find a copy (I watched it on the YouTubes, shhhh) and see what you think (or you could follow Ms Garner’s advice and “get disgustingly drunk” [or even do both at the same time….]).  There’s evidently a couple cuts available, the “newest” is evidently close to McDowall’s original vision, so not sure which one I saw or what the differences are, but I’ll try to get some info on that and update this post accordingly.