From the DVD case: Ever since the bus accident, nothing has been the same for Lorna Webster. She returns to the New England hometown where her family has lived for centuries. But no happy reunion awaits. She is convinced that she has become a witch, the target of a 300-year-old curse, and strange happenings soon persuade the townsfolk that she’s right. As desperately as she tries, she cannot shake the evil that seems to follow her everywhere. Caught up in a wave of hysteria, the entire town is driven to extremes. (1945, b&w)
Mark says: Any serious horror fan would be hard-pressed not to compare The Woman Who Came Back to the Val Lewton productions that were popular at the time. (See my review of Cat People for a quick background in Lewtonian plot/film devices.) Though The Woman Who Came Back follows the Lewtonian model closely, it demonstrates how delicate the scales of psychological terror and supernatural horror can be. If the scales are tipped too much on either side, the film can disintegrate before your eyes. Unfortunately, this is the problem which plagues the film at hand.
Nancy Kelly (The Bad Seed) plays Lorna Webster, a woman who left the New England town of Eben Rock under suspicious circumstances (apparently leaving her fiancé standing at the alter). The story begins a few years later and Lorna is returning to Eben Rock via bus trip. In a brief narrative we are told that one of Lorna’s ancestors, Elijah Webster, was a judge who 300 years earlier burned innocent women at the stake for witchcraft. One such woman was Jezebel Trister. Jezebel was burned with her “familiar,” a dog, and pledged to return one day to avenge her death.
As Lorna’s bus approaches Eben Rock, it picks up a strange traveler and her dog. The woman is suspiciously witch-like in appearance and seems to know all about Lorna and her family history. When the woman introduces herself as Jezebel Trister and raises her veil, Lorna screams and the bus plunges off a bridge right into Shadow Lake. Lorna is the only survivor and no trace of the mysterious woman is found, except for a black veil which is returned to Lorna as her own.
The townsfolk are immediately suspicious of Lorna’s sudden return, especially in conjunction with the bus accident. We are given hints that Lorna has always been regarded as peculiar, a woman who keeps to herself, and that perhaps other accidents in the past have been attributed to her. The only people who seem genuinely glad to see Lorna again are her fiancé, Dr. Matt Adams (John Loder, The Mysterious Doctor) and Rev. Jim Stevens (Otto Kruger, Dracula’s Daughter). Lorna and Matt immediately resume their relationship, but Lorna has suspicions that the alleged witch, Jezebel Trister, has somehow possessed her. The townsfolk are only too eager to believe the same.