Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cry of the Banshee (1970)

          After American International Pictures scored in the ’60s with several Edgar Allan Poe-derived movies starring Vincent Price, the company pushed its luck by occasionally slapping the Poe brand onto Price movies that weren’t derived from Poe stories. For instance, Cry of the Banshee opens with a poem falsely attributed to Poe, then tells an original story that riffs on the narrative of a previous Price film, Witchfinder General (1968), which AIP dubiously reititled The Conqueror Worm in order to force a Poe reference onto the material. Cry of the Banshee is crammed with so many horror-cinema signifiers that it’s a confusing hodgepodge. Although the film does not include a banshee, it does include corrupt inquisitors, grave robbers, rabid dogs, rapists, Satan worshippers, a werewolf (sort of), torturers, and witches. In the course of cramming all of these elements into 91 minutes, AIP skimped on character development and narrative coherence—Cry of the Banshee is all about lurid scenes featuring curses, the degradation of women, and pagan rituals, with Price’s signature style of aristocratic sadism providing a tenuous through line.
          The movie takes place in 16th-century England, where Lord Edward Whitman (Price) is a vicious judge who abuses suspected witches for sport. After a long and ultimately pointless sequence of Edward overseeing the public whipping of a young woman, the movie introduces its proper plot when Edward causes the murders of two siblings from a coven overseen by a witch named Oona (Elisabeth Bergner). The incensed Oona puts a curse on Edward’s family, so a member of Edward’s household, the mysterious Roderick (Patrick Mower), periodically transforms into some sort of hairy monster and kills Edward’s relatives. Between deaths, Edward leads frantic searches for the identity of the killer and the location of Oona’s secret hideout.
          Cry of the Banshee suffers from needlessly obtuse storytelling that can be attributed to aimless scripting and messy editing. The movie’s also quite ugly in its treatment of women, since it seems as if some accused witch and/or innocent serving wench is having her clothes ripped open every 10 minutes. Women are also hung over hot coals, put in stocks, stabbed, violated, and whipped. Nonetheless, Price contributes his usual robust work, the production design is acceptably immersive, and it’s novel to see an animated title sequence created by Terry Gilliam outside of the usual Monty Python context. All in all, Cry of the Banshee is nasty stuff—but that’s probably the point.

Cry of the Banshee: FUNKY

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