Friday, April 26, 2013


"Do you believe?"

I watched BURN WITCH, BURN (1962) last night. I had recorded it off of TMC a few days ago. I seem to vaguely recall seeing this one years ago but I didn't recall the specifics of the story while watching it last night.

Based on the novel CONJURE WIFE by American science-fiction/fantasy author Fritz Leiber (the  screenplay is by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, two gentlemen who certainly know their way around the horror genre) this British horror film was released in the UK under the title NIGHT OF THE EAGLE. It was retitled BURN WITCH, BURN for American distribution by American-International Pictures. I also recall reading a serialization of CONJURE WIFE many years ago. I've got a copy of it on my shelf and it's due for a re-reading sometime soon.

The story centers around Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) a psychology professor at a British university who steadfastly refuses to believe in the occult and the supernatural. He insists that there is a logical, scientific reason behind everything that happens and that superstitions and belief in magic is a form of neurosis.

Taylor leads a charmed life at the university because his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), has been practicing witchcraft in order to protect him from harm. When he finds out that his own wife is a practitioner of what he believes to be rubbish, he destroys all of her talismans and charms and puts an end to her silly superstitions.

But then bad things start happening to Taylor, really bad things. It turns out that his wife really was protecting him from the black spells being cast upon him by Flora (Margaret Johnson), the university secretary, who perceives Taylor as a threat to her husband's career advancement. 

There's a terrific climax in which a stone eagle comes to life and menaces Taylor (hence the British title NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) before everything is finally resolved. Was it just a case of hypnosis and powerful suggestion that threatened Taylor and Tansy or was it really black magic? You decide.

BURN WITCH, BURN is a taut, earnest film that starts out slowly and builds to a feverish climax. The cast is solid and they all deliver good performances under the direction of Sidney Hayer. The special effects, while simple by today's standards, are convincing and not overused. BURN WITCH, BURN isn't regarded as a genre classic but this well-made, literate thriller certainly deserves to be seen by anyone who has an interest in horror films. Recommended.

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