After his first-ever published article — Forbidden Fruit: Erotic Secrets of the Modern Witch — hits the newsstand, Joe (John Thacker) is visited at his home by high priestess Evie (Samantha Moorhouse, “Marrok”) who bursts his bubble, accusing him of writing an under-researched article that slanders her coven and furthers the bigotry and hatred that “has plagued Wiccan women for hundreds of years.” Evie invites Joe to meet her coven and observe their rituals in order to get his story straight. Joe accepts. And so the gauntlet has been set in the not so enthralling Coven of Evil.
Soon after, Joe arrives at the agreed-upon location where, after snooping around alone, he is greeted by Zander (Craig R. Mellor, “The Hooligan Factory”), Evie’s husband, who aggressively asks who Joe is and why he’s there. Evie settles the confrontation by yanking back on Zander’s leash, showing Joe that she is truly the one in charge. Her next move is to introduce the rest of the “group” — Kissi (Tracy Gabbitas, “Giving Up The Ghost”) the healer, Raymond (Micky Satiar, “Gentleman’s Club”) and Wes (Jacob Kain Prescott, “Surprise”) the coven’s pair of goons, and Talia (Laura Ellen Wilson, “Once a Year on Blackpool Sands”), whose purpose hasn’t yet revealed itself.
The coven’s ritual takes place later that night, and Joe is promoted from observer to participant. Dancing with Talia, it is revealed she is a “gift” granted to him. Drenched in regret the following morning, Joe accuses Evie and the coven of drugging him, but nonetheless decides to stay to ONLY observe the next ritual for his research. His subsequent encounter with abused “house guest” Alice (Laura Peterson, “One Summer When You Went Away”) solidifies his choice. Evie and her coven prepare for this next ceremony — the most important yet — all while trying to keep Joe as much in the dark as possible . . .
Coven of Evil, written, produced, and directed by Matthew J. Lawrence, begins with a prologue scene depicting a 1798 ritual during which an ominous group calls forth their dark master to receive the sacrifice of an innocent girl. A jump to present day signals that this ritual is central to the tale we are about to be told. The story moves along relatively smoothly, though the timeline begins to blur once Joe participates in the ritual, and it’s unclear how long he stays with the coven — days? weeks?; it doesn’t much matter to this film. Also blurred are the lines of the kind of evil we’re dealing with — there are edges of witchcraft, superstition, Satanism, and vampirism all mixed into one ambiguous “evil.”
For the most part, the individuals are stock characters — the angry, jealous, brute of a husband, the wannabe witch standby who catches that husband’s eye while irritating the priestess at every turn, the flighty one (who is useful only when needed) and is otherwise expected to keep quiet, and the hidden-away innocent girl, bound for that sacrifice you know is coming. Samantha Moorhouse is one of the strongest of this cast, playing her high priestess with aplomb; she controls her arguing followers with a piercing glance, keeps the girls in their established places with her sharp tongue, and quiets her husband’s fury with a meaningful touch. In contrast, Thacker’s Joe is adrift in a story-line that doesn’t quite know what to do with him; through much of the film, you wonder what these people do with their daytime hours. It seems Joe just serves as a means for drawing out sweet Alice. There are also no other rituals for Joe to observe, and at no point does it seem he’s writing a follow-up article or trying to learn the lay of the land. There isn’t much going on for any of the characters, and we, the viewers, are occasionally tempted to wield that ten second fast-forward button on our remotes to get things moving along.
I will say, however, that there is a seed for a stronger story in this low-budget indie tale, and I wish there had been some additional editing of the middle sections and more development for what exactly Joe does while he’s there. There are some fun moments in the final sequences, and though it takes some stamina to get to those final moments, they do improve the general impression of the movie. Coven of Evil isn’t exactly going to blow away the giants of the genre, but it does show that Lawrence has something in the tank to entertain us with.