Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Halloween Hootenanny - First Impressions: Night of the Eagle aka Burn, Witch, Burn! (Sidney Hayers, 1962)

While I'll obviously be re-visiting quite a few perennial favourites this month, it's also my intention to watch as many previously unseen movies as I can lay my hands on. And today's film will be the first of that latter category. Many thanks to that affable chap Mr. Brad Hogue of 'Hello! This is the Doomed Show' and 'Yellow Razor' for bringing this, and many other titles to my attention.  

Apparently, Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife, upon which this film is based, had been adapted previously for the screen as Weird Woman in 1944 (starring Lon Chaney Jr.) and would also be used again years later for Witches' Brew in 1980. I'm more familiar with Leiber by reputation than through actual exposure to his work, having only read one of his short stories, which is the seminal "Smoke Ghost". But from that alone it seemed fairly apparent that the author was interested in bringing the traditional horror story out of the past and into the modern world.

The story follows Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde), a successful professor who, as we see in an early scene, apparently has a passion for attempting to demythologise the occult. However, it soon turns out that the academic actually owes much of his success (and continued existence more generally speaking) to the work carried out by his wife Tansy (Janet Blair), who is practising witchcraft to protect her husband from the malevolent machinations of another witch. As you might imagine, upon discovering all this Norman is rather shocked, and attempts to write off his wife's concerns as mere pathology and superstition, even going as far as getting her to burn all her good luck charms. This being a horror film, there's no points for guessing what happens next.

I'm really glad I had the opportunity to discover Night of the Eagle, and now that I have, I'm frankly flabbergasted that I hadn't heard about it sooner, as this is a real gem of a film, comparing favourably with other restrained, highly intelligent chillers such as The Haunting and the work of producer Val Lewton. It's wonderfully atmospheric, featuring stark, striking cinematography by Reginald Wyer, and also features a superlative screenplay, written by two legends of speculative fiction (Charles Beaumont and the late Richard Matheson), that seems to never waste a word. Finally, praise is most certainly due to all of the principals in front of the camera, as they turn in uniformly memorable performances of great intensity, arguably taking this already excellent movie to another level entirely.  


  1. I am so glad that you enjoyed it. Takes a load off of my mind!

  2. Oh yes, it completely exceeded my expectations, which were already pretty optimistic to begin with. While this obviously has a lot of the furniture of a 50s/60s chiller, I was really surprised by how modern and fresh it all feels, and I look forward to returning to it soon. Did somebody say Witch-a-thon?