Monday, November 11, 2013

Cry of The Banshee - 1970


"A Corpse On Horseback rides before it
A mad dog runs behind it
When the banshee cries
the sidhe answers
And someone else will die
A tale of the Old Religon
and the scream that kills"

   Although most time regulated below Price's better known portrayal as an Elizabethan England witchfinder in Michael Reeves admittedly superior Witchfinder General (1968), Cry of The Banshee in some respects is a far grimer movie with a very grubby and exploitative feel to it. The big difference is there being an actual monster here while Reeve's movie is more ground in reality with Price's Matthew Hopkins being the central "monster" (as it were). Director Gordon Hessler made four movies for A.I.P. during this period - The Oblong Box (1969), Scream and Scream Again & Cry of the Banshee (both from 1970 and all three starring Price), plus 1971's Murders in the Rue Morgue.
   While not as well known as A.I.P's earlier Corman "Poe" films (not to mention A.I.P's other horror films) his work is will worth a  look, plus MGM did restoration work on all these for DVD (now sadly OOP) that restores Hessler's original version of each (all of which were tampered with to varying degrees including cuts for violence & nudity, running time, sequencing & music). Banshee had instances of female nudity (with some fairly uncomfortable groping & man-handling of some of the actresses) removed, along with some bloody violence. A major sequence was edited forward as a prologue (which causes some confusion as characters are shown who aren't introduced until later in the plot) and Wilfred Joseph's score was replaced by Les Baxter.

   Opening with animated credit sequence designed by Terry Gilliam which brings to mind Monty Python (you keep waiting for a giant foot to come down) and a portion of Edgar Allan Poe's poem The Bells in an attempt to continue the association back to the successful run of Corman's Poe films in the previous decade. Price (channeling his Matthew Hopkins from Witchfinder General) plays Lord Edward Whitman, a magistrate in a small village who wields tyrannical power over his subjects by prosecuting alleged witches as he and his sons Sean (Stephen Chase) and the more understanding & educated Harry (Carl Rigg) run roughshod over the countryside along with a couple of henchmen. Also there's Price's youngish new wife Lady Patricia (soft core sex star Eddy Perreson) and not so innocent daughter Maureen (the very beautiful Hilary Heath - who co-starred in Witchfinder General).

   Starting with Lord Whitman presiding over the trial of an alleged witch that ends with her being branded ("H for Heretic !"), dragged thru the streets and placed in the stocks. Later while celebrating with a feast at his home Whitman kills a couple of witch kids (including Sally Geeson - sister of Judy) which seems to push Lady Patricia over the edge sanity wise which is only compounded by being raped by stepson Sean. Daughter Maureen is having some rolls in hay with her father's stable hand Roderick (Patrick Mower), who also seems to have a calming effect on the increasingly mentally unstable Lady Patricia. Plus he has a controlling effect on animals which is used to save a child from a rabid dog which raises the suspicions of a priest (Marshall Jones).
    The Whitman clan incurs the wrath of local sorceress Oona (German silent film star Elisabeth Bergner) after killing her followers whilst engaged in pagan ceremony. She places a curse upon them & summons a demon (or a sidhe  - which as shown here seems to have a lot in common with a werewolf.)  "The flesh, the blood, the wife, the children and the house of Whitman" - to which Price answers in one the more quotable lines from the movie "We're cursed from hell to Christmas, we Whitmans !"

   The creature (probably wisely in the shadows) begins tearing thru the Whitman family tree in very bloody fashion with some fairly shocking for the time violence (with bloody close-ups including a blunderbuss to the face). The cast all approaches the subject matter seriously (although we do get some the famous Price "arched eyebrow evil" looks) with Hilary Heath doing an especially fine job as the outward appearing angelic (but sexy) daughter. Hopefully with Shout Factory's deal with MGM (and with their recent Vincent Price blu-ray box) Gordon Hessler's work will once again be available.

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