Burn, Witch, Burn! / Night of the Eagle (1962)

“I will not be responsible for what happens to us if you make me give up my protections!”

Synopsis:
A highly rational professor (Peter Wyngarde) is disturbed to discover that his wife (Janet Blair) has been practicing black magic to help him achieve tenure, and forces her to stop — but soon a series of tragedies befall them, and Wyngarde must reconsider his lack of belief.

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Review:
Film fanatics who’ve not yet seen this low-budget British horror flick are in for a real treat. Based upon a simple yet inspired narrative premise — a young professor seeking tenure would surely be more in need of assistance from the Dark Side than anyone else! — it possesses clear echoes of Rosemary’s Baby (was Polanski inspired by it?) in its depiction of a loving couple whose lives are nearly destroyed by their divergent spiritual beliefs. Director Sidney Hayers and DP Reginald Wyer film the entire affair with extraordinary skill, evoking horror in seemingly mundane interactions and objects; we come to truly believe that dark forces are ruling this unfortunate household. The final half-hour brings an unexpected plot twist, one which suddenly sheds new light on the narrative — and the tension simply never lets up. This is a film which really must be seen to be appreciated, and merits multiple enjoyable viewings.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Peter Wyngarde as Norman Taylor
  • Janet Blair as Tansy Taylor
  • Margaret Johnston as Flora Carr
  • Wonderfully atmospheric cinematography and direction
  • Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and George Baxt’s clever, spooky script

Must See?
Yes, most definitely. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Burn, Witch, Burn! / Night of the Eagle (1962)”

  1. A wonderfully frightful must! ~and in total agreement here.

    I do love this type of film. I don’t mean films about the black arts…necessarily. But the films that ffs should know practically nothing about before watching them. Such films really can be spoiled through tmi. Someone should put such films together in a book…except the book would have to be nothing but a listing of titles. 😉

    About the film itself, suffice it to say then that it’s a hell of a ride. Literally.

    There may be a few other things I can safely say.

    It’s quite likely Polanski was influenced by it, as well as Ira Levin – the author of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. It’s conceivable that Levin would have read Fritz Leiber’s 1942 novel, ‘Conjure Wife’, on which ‘Burn…’ is based. There are noticeable differences in both stories (they do go in different directions), but they share the root of an atmosphere of normalcy. Levin/Polanski’s work goes one better in that regard, tho (which is why ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is almost an hour longer than ‘Burn…’).

    The DVD I saw has a rather interesting commentary by co-screenwriter Matheson. Oddly, the commentary is out-of-sync. Matheson, of course, intended to begin when the actual film does. However, the US version of the film has a tacked-on opening in darkness, with a voice ‘warning’ us about the theme of the film we’re about to watch. It’s a rather silly opening – not used in the UK version – but Matheson’s voice starts in over that opening, so that’s a bit unfortunate (if you happen to see that print).

    ‘Burn…’ has a few “I know I’ve seen him/her before” people in the cast: Wyngarde was seen the year before as the ghost of Quint in ‘The Innocents’; Blair was the original Eileen in the 1942 version of ‘My Sister Eileen’; Kathleen Byron – so memorable as Sister Ruth in ‘Black Narcissus’ – has a small role here; as does Norman Bird (as a doctor), who I remembered from ‘Whistle Down the Wind’.

    Back to the film…slightly: one really is tempted to say more about it, if only to (in part) give one’s thoughts on how to interpret what. But that really would take away from it. And, in this case, one’s own thoughts probably don’t even really matter (unless a group of you discuss it post-viewing). Just see it, see it! I intend to read the novel…then see it again.

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