Night of the Eagle aka Burn Witch, Burn – UK, USA, 1962 – reviews

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‘Do the undead demons of Hell still arise to terrorize the world?’

Night of the Eagle is a 1962 British-American horror film directed by Sidney Hayers (Circus of Horrors; Assault; Revenge; Deadly Strangers). The script by Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson and George Baxt was based upon the 1943 Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife (also the basis for Weird Woman, 1944). It stars Peter Wyngarde (The Innocents), Janet Blair and Margaret Johnston.

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The film was retitled Burn Witch, Burn by American International Pictures (AIP) for the US market.

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Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a psychology professor lecturing about belief systems and superstition. He discovers that his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), is practising witchcraft. She insists that her charms have been responsible for his rapid advancement in his academic career and for his general well-being.

A firm rationalist, Norman is angered by her acceptance of superstition. He forces her to burn all of her magical paraphernalia.

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Almost immediately, things start to go wrong: a female student (Judith Stott) accuses Norman of rape, her boyfriend (Bill Mitchell) threatens him with violence, and someone tries to break into the Taylor’s home during a thunderstorm. Tansy, willing to sacrifice her life for her husband’s safety, almost drowns herself and is only saved at the last minute by Norman giving in to the practices he despises….

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  • Interview with star Peter Wyngarde
  • Audio commentary with writer Richard Matheson
  • Original Trailer

Night of the Eagle depicts the use of charms or supernatural powers in an ‘everyday’ environment and juxtaposes it with a rationalist view which is questioned during the progress of events. Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957) works in a similar way.

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Film prints for the US release were preceded by a narrated prologue in which the voice of Paul Frees was heard to intone a spell to protect the audience members from evil. For protection, American movie audiences were given a special pack of salt and words to an ancient incantation.

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Reviews:

“Simply as a suspense yarn, blending lurid conjecture and brisk reality, growing chillier by the minute, and finally whipping up an ice-cold crescendo of fright, the result is admirable. Excellently photographed (not a single “frame” is wasted), and cunningly directed by Sidney Hayers, the incidents gather a pounding, graphic drive that is diabolically teasing. The climax is a nightmarish hair-curler but, we maintain, entirely logical within the context.” The New York Times

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“Night of the Eagle is British horror cinema at its finest – for much of its running time it’s all about shadows and unanswered questions. But when it veers into out-and-out horror, it’s terrifying – despite the occasional dodgy effect.” British Horror Films

“A basically chilling occult movie is spoiled by a too-verbose and over-melodramatic script: Sidney Hayers’ direction is excellent, creating terror by what he fails to show.” Alan Frank, The Horror Film Handbook

“Everything about this is first-class, from script to photography, and its real suspenseful and exciting.” Clive Davies, Spinegrinder

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“An old school, slow-boil, British suspenser, Burn, Witch, Burn is an effectively creepy film that mixes psychological horror with a tale of the supernatural. While the film contains a fair share of full-on shocks, it mainly relies on the kind of subtle, suggestive horror of a Val Lewton production.” Tom Becker, DVD Verdict

x-cert british independent horror film 1951-1970 john hamilton hemlock film
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Censorship:

While the film was accessible to an under-aged audience in the US, in the UK it was rated “X” (adults only) on its initial release. It was later re-rated 15, then 12 for UK home video releases.

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Cast and characters:

  • Peter Wyngarde – Norman Taylor
  • Janet Blair – Tansy Taylor
  • Margaret Johnston – Flora Carr
  • Anthony Nicholls – Harvey Sawtelle
  • Colin Gordon – Lindsay Carr
  • Kathleen Byron – Evelyn Sawtelle
  • Reginald Beckwith – Harold Gunnison

Choice dialogue:

“One day I shall burn your stuffy old books, they invade every corner of our lives.”

Filming locations:

  • Cape Cornwall, St. Just, Cornwall
  • Porthcurno Beach, Porthcurno, Cornwall
  • Taplow Court, Berkshire

Image credits: Scenes from the Morgue

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