Burn, Witch, Burn!
June 17, 2011
Known originally as The Night of the Eagle in United Kingdom, Sidney Hayers’ film was retitled Burn, Witch, Burn! (1962) when it was released in the United States by American International Pictures (AIP). Based on Fritz Leiber’s 1943 novel Conjure Wife, the script was written by Charles Beaumont, George Baxt and the great Richard Matheson.
Norman Taylor (Wyngarde) is a college psychology professor who produces the best grades from his students than the rest of his fellow teachers. So much so that he’s the odds on favorite to be named chair of the sociology department, much to the chagrin of some of the faculty and their spouses. They chide him about leading a charmed life while he openly scoffs at the practice of witchcraft and all things supernatural. However, his wife Tansy (Blair) is very superstitious and rightly so. One night, after returning home from playing bridge with friends, she finds an evil talisman hidden in the fringe of one of their lampshades. Norman soon discovers that Tansy is a witch.
Upset, Norman asks Tansy to explain herself and she recounts a time when he almost died and she was willing to give up her life so he would have lived. She started to practice witchcraft in order to protect him from evil forces at the school. Norman foolishly makes her burn all of her talismans and strange things start to happen. On the way to school one day, he is almost hit by a speeding truck. A female student claims he violated her. The stone statue of an eagle become real and tries to kill him.
Peter Wyngarde is good as the skeptical husband and how, over the course of the film, this becomes desperation as Tansy’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Janet Blair is even better as his wife and devout believer in the occult. Is she really a witch or merely insane? Blair fully commits herself to the role.
With endless resources on witchcraft – both historical and practical information – there is no reason for a film to be inaccurate and the screenwriters for Burn, Witch, Burn! gets it right, including all the little details and rituals for certainly spells and curses. Director Sidney Hayers employs moody noir lighting for maximum effect complete with skewed camera angles that create an unsettling atmosphere and this wonderful transfer shows off the richly textured black and white cinematography. It is the less is more school of horror that evokes the shadowy horror films of Val Lewton. For a low budget, Hayers uses these limitations to his advantage while his skill at composing the frame of action is impressive.