Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: Cry of the Banshee

Anybody who watched Last Tango in Paris for Marlon Brando will understand what I mean when I say that I should stop watching movies just because they star Vincent Price. I came to this decision in 2013 when I watched Witchfinder General, but I guess I haven't learned my lesson because Cry of the Banshee is almost the same movie.

Actually, that's not fair. Cry of the Banshee is an original story, but it was made only a year after Witchfinder General, stars the same guy and deals with extremely similar subject matter. Clearly some executive at American International Pictures was perfectly happy to crank out cookie cutter films for as long as they remained profitable; thank God modern Hollywood doesn't do that (ho, ho).

So. Vincent Price stars as Lord Edward Whitman, the magistrate of a small village in Elizabethan England. Whitman is engaged in a campaign of exposing heretics and executing witches. It seems he has a good number of allies in the community, but among the lower class he is seen as a bloodthirsty monster, and he spends the opening minutes of the movie branding an accused heretic with an H and sentencing her to the stockades. For his next trick, he throws a dinner party where a probably-innocent brother and sister are murdered just because he's feeling jumpy.

Sooner or later, Whitman's efforts hit paydirt; he and his sons stumble upon a druidic coven in the hills in the act of observing the witches' Sabbath. The coven is massacred, and those who remain are banished to the hills. Their leader, an elderly woman named Oona, calls upon a "sidhe" (thank you, subtitles--but we'll just call it a banshee) to avenge the fallen. The Forces of Darkness conspire against the Whitman family, so Lord Whitman ratchets up the level of holy war that he's been waging. Things do not go well for him. Also, there's a werewolf.

Cry of the Banshee had a notoriously tumultuous journey from page to screen, and then from big screen to DVD. The screenplay went through a major rewrite, and the original musical score was scrapped in favor of a new one by Les Baxter (who I like, but the general consensus is that his score is inferior). When the movie was released in the United States, it was heavily cut in order to market it to a much larger audience. For years, only butchered versions of the film were available, but the DVD (and streaming) version is (apparently) as close to a director's cut as we're likely to get; the original UK cut is presented intact, with its original soundtrack.

Unfortunately, presenting the movie in its best form does not change the fact that it's just not very good, and that I didn't much enjoy it. Cry of the Banshee is obviously riding on the coattails of Witchfinder General, which itself is not a good movie--just a shocking one. Vincent Price inhabits the character of Lord Whitman, but he's not much fun to watch because the film is bleak and his charm is muted.

As in Witchfinder General, the advertising tried to capitalize on Price's previous appearance in other American International Pictures productions of Edgar Allan Poe stories. The movie opens with a short quote from "The Bells":
In the startled ear of night
    How they screamed out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak
    They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune......
...which has nothing to do with the movie. Another poem which has nothing to do with the movie was used in its promotional materials and attributed to erroneously to Poe, though it was probably written by somebody in Marketing:
Who spurs the beast the corpse will ride?
Who cries the cry that kills?
When Satan questioned, who replied?
Whenst blows this wind that chills?
Who walks amongst these empty graves
And seeks a place to lie?
'Tis something God ne'er had planned,
A thing that ne'er had learned to die.
No matter what else I have to say about the movie, I do like that poem. I also liked the opening titles, which were animated by a pre-Monty Python Terry Gilliam. They're nothing special compared to the work he'd be doing a couple of months later, but they're the two best minutes of the movie:

And the trailer, in case you're interested:

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