‘Edgar Allan Poe probes new depths of terror!’
Cry of the Banshee is a 1970 British horror film directed by Gordon Hessler (The Oblong Box, Scream and Scream Again, Murders in the Rue Morgue) and financed by American International Pictures (AIP). The script by Tim Kelly was reworked by Christopher Wicking at Hessler’s behest and is only vaguely based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe.
The animated opening credits were created by Terry Gilliam, of the Monty Python team. The film was
The film stars Vincent Price, Essy Persson, Hugh Griffith (The Abominable Doctor Phibes; Craze; Legend of the Werewolf), Elizabeth Bergner, Hilary Dwyer (Witchfinder General; The Oblong Box), Patrick Mower (The Devil Rides Out; Incense for the Damned), Sally Geeson.
Elizabethan England: Lord Charles Whitman is hosting a feast when suddenly two poor and ragged-looking little children enter the great hall. A burst of wolf-like howling from outside the walls warns that they may be “devil-marked.” The lord decides to kill them in spite of the risk.
As his eldest son sleeps with his pretty young wife and his daughter seeks out her favourite servant for comfort, Lord Whitman begins mumbling that he wants to “clean up” the witches in the area, especially “that decrepit old bag, Oona.”
Assisted by his two older sons, Whitman goes hunting in the hills for witches, odd characters, and “persons of interest.”…
The US theatrical release featured the ‘GP’ rated print which changed Terry Gilliam’s opening animated credits to still ones, replaced Wilfred Josephs’ music score (he also scored Fanatic, The Deadly Bees, Dark Places) with one by Les Baxter – and was cut to remove all footage of topless nudity and to tone down assorted whippings and assault scenes. This print was also used for the original UK cinema release in 1970.
The 1988 UK Guild video release featured the same heavily edited print as the US and UK cinema ones. Fortunately, all DVD release feature the full uncut version, which also restores the original Wilfred Josephs music score.
“While nowhere near as accomplished or compelling as its AIP-produced Gothic horror peers, Banshee still unfurls as an entertaining slice of occult-tinged hokum, with Mr. Price doing what he does best and some creepily staged stalking sequences livening up the plodding pace and dialogue-heavy scenes.” Behind the Couch
“Only in the location scenes does Hessler create a sense of haunting evil. Elsewhere, the film exploits whatever opportunities for violence provided by its theme: women are stripped, one is burnt alive, a head is blown off, there is a massacre, and so on.’ The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
” … with the 1970s on the horizon, no opportunity is passed up for exposing women’s breasts. This would be all right in itself, but the women always seem to be undergoing some abuse at the time, whether they are in the stocks or being raped by a close relative or being impaled on a spike or just being roughly interrogated…” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic
“Vincent Price is given little to do here, other than act unpleasant, but his presence is always welcome. The production is “well mounted” due in no small part due to the use of opulent costumes which were left over from the big-budget historical film Anne of the Thousand Days.” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams
” … like a parody of Witchfinder General with absolutely none of the morality or conviction (or production values). Listlessly staged, with Price giving a bland auto-pilot performance … the misogynist cruelty here is paraded for our pleasure in a way that reeks of artifice.” David Pirie, A New Heritage of Horror
” … it isn’t needlessly sadistic. Horror, fantasy and exploitation are well balanced. There are many surprises, as the scenes do not follow a conventional story arc. The witches are portrayed like regular people, some of them good and others bad. It’s hard to tell who to root for.” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
” … confused yarn that fails to develop its interesting premise.” John Elliot, Elliot’s Guide to Films on Video
Director Gordon Hessler talks to George Reis for DVD Drive-In
- Vincent Price – Lord Edward Whitman
- Essy Persson – Lady Patricia Whitman
- Elizabeth Bergner – Oona
- Hugh Griffith – Mickey
- Patrick Mower – Roderick
- Hilary Dwyer – Maureen Whitman
- Sally Geeson – Sarah
- Stephan Chase – Sean Whitman
- Carl Rigg – Harry Whitman
- Marshall Jones – Father Tom
- Andrew McCulloch – Bully Boy
- Michael Elphick – Burke
- Robert Hutton – Party Guest
Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes: The Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews by Tom Weaver, McFarland
Related: Burn, Witch, Burn! Witchfinders in Horror Cinema – article