Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cry Of The Banshee

Because of the era in which I grew up, I have a lasting fondness for the films of England’s Hammer Studios, and their lesser American rivals, American International Pictures. Since I watched most of these (in cut versions) on the late show growing up, even those that aren’t that great entertain me. And one of those is 1970’s Cry Of The Banshee.
Cry Of The Banshee stars AIP’s mainstay Vincent Price, who seemed to appear in all their movies, the American counterpart to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. He plays a magistrate in a generic European country in an uncertain time (the soldiers were Spanish helmets and carry blunderbusses from the 16th century, but Price’s family name is Whitman. The locals speak in a variety of accents. The legend of the banshee comes from Ireland and Scotland). He has a great deal of power over the lower class residents of his territory, but not enough to do to keep him busy. Therefore, a la The Witchfinder General, he randomly accuses locals of witchcraft and tortures them to death, whiling away an evening watching a busty wench get burned alive. He has two sons, who share their father’s hobby, but also, as young men, mix it up a little with the odd rape.
After a particularly fruitful raid on local sorcery practitioners, he allows the lead witch to live in order to advance the plot. She thanks him with the curse of the banshee, and the magistrate’s groom begins transforming into a werewolf-of-sorts and killing the Whitman family. Many killings and bare breasts later, the movie ends.
My first nitpick is this is a poor depiction of the legend of the banshee. The bean sidhe (pronounced banshee, approximately) was a female fairy-type, who howled whenever someone was about to die, more a harbinger of death than a cause thereof. Here, the banshee is pretty much Larry Talbot. The plot is also cluttered and disorganized, with characters like the priest and the second son seeming to be important, but not actually having anything to do with the plot. And little is done to explain their version of the banshee. Also, the movie's relationship to the work of Edgar Allen Poe is strained even by AIP's standards.
Still, Vincent Price is always a joy, and I got a kick out of it. If this sort of movie appeals to you, you will find it an entertaining evening-waster.

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