NIGHT OF THE EAGLE aka BURN WITCH, BITCH (1962) Reviews and overview

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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 screenplay 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).

The movie stars Peter Wyngarde (The Innocents), Janet Blair and Margaret Johnston. Produced by Albert Fennell.

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The film was re-titled Burn Witch, Burn by James Nicholson of American International Pictures (AIP) for its US release.

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Plot:
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 carnal assault, her boyfriend (Bill Mitchell) threatens him with violence, and someone tries to break into the Taylors 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.

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.

Reviews:
“Granted, Janet Blair’s performance is a bit on the shrill and hysterical side and doesn’t develop as much as one might like, but it works in context. Also, William Alwyn’s score could have taken a more indirect approach in a few instances, could have created a greater effect by underplaying. Otherwise, there’s nothing to complain about — certainly not the spot-on direction from Sidney Hayers…” AllMovie

“The movie’s three scenarists provide a flawed but effectively constructed plot allowing Hayers to concentrate on visual effects achieved through judicious framing and camera movement. The gradual accumulation of harbingers of doom – from the aftermath of a bridge party when Blair discovers a witch doll strapped to a chair, to the eerie churchyard sequence and the attack of a possessed Blair on her husband – is particularly impressive.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“Tolerable late-night horror with some effective sequences.” Howard Maxford, The A-Z of Horror Films

” …aside from the scenes featuring the giant eagle, Night of the Eagle is a shining example of the Lewton-esque ‘less is more’ approach to horror. Wyngarde is mesmerising as Norman, whose icily cool and calm exterior gradually melting away into abject terror, is compelling to watch. A subtle chiller that creeps icily under the skin.” Behind the Couch

“The sound design is skilful, in particular the use of a reel-to-reel tape containing Norman’s speech on neurosis to conjure up evil – modern technology employed for ancient ends. Black and white cinematography is the purest way to portray the battle against dark forces, and much of the action takes place in Norman and Tansy’s house, amplifying their isolation and vulnerability.” British Film Institute

“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

“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.” DVD Verdict

“The film’s two leads have a genius for expressing fear. Janet Blair’s panic as she searches for a hidden voodoo doll is almost palpable, while Peter Wyngarde’s perspiring terror as he is pursued by the college’s stone Eagle come to homicidal life is quite simply a tour de force.” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema

“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

More reviews and info on page 2

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