Synopsis: Vincent Price is diabolical, commanding and “as brutally horrific as ever” (Motion Picture Exhibitor) as a corrupt English magistrate who leads a crusade to rid the countryside of witches…but doesn’t mind accosting a few innocent wenches on his way! Murder, torture and titillation are just a few methods of interrogation in this lurid “witchcraft shocker” (Motion Picture Exhibitor) that pits evil against more evil in a duel to the death!
I decided to watch ‘Cry of the Banshee’ on Edgar Allen Poe’s birthday. While it’s not actually based on Poe’s work, it was part of the streak of Edgar Allen Poe-related films that Vincent Price did with American International Pictures in the ’60s, many with Roger Corman, and many of which were extremely popular.
To cash in on this wave of commercial success, producers ended up tieing in just about any script to Edgar Allen Poe, even if it was a loose adaptation of a poem, a small reading of his work in lieu of narration, or, as was the case here, a few short lines of his to serve as an intro to the film.
Evidently, this formula didn’t always inspire great results, but some of the films ended up being relatively entertaining, even if they were mostly done on the cheap and couldn’t boast high-quality productions or the most refined casts. Roger Corman, however, was a master at re-using locations, sets and costumes, stretching his production dollars to breaking point – so, under his stewardship, films could come off quite alright.
Unfortunately, From a pure technical standpoint, this particular film is filled with flaws. It’s as though, not only were they making movies with very few resources, but the crew didn’t have the imagination and/or talent to work with what they had on hand. I’ve seen movies made on credit cards, for goodness’ sake, and it is possible to do a lot with little – even though it’s not easy (and it frequently shows ).
For instance, I couldn’t help but be amused every time I saw an actor’s fillings when they screamed or laughed; it seems to me that the director could simply have used different angles to conceal them. There were also more obvious things like weird overdubs: such as a recurring dog’s bark which was clearly emulated by a human being, or Lady Whitman’s muttering to herself by the lake – she sounded like a crazy person, and her voice was obviously not her own.
Then there’s the borderline anachronistic stuff like the use of pistols. Now, I understand that handguns started being produced in the 16th century, and this film takes place in Elizabethan England (1558-1603), but it’s kind of pushing it that a handful of people carried them, and had them loaded, at the ready. I don’t even know if this was possible then.
Another bit that left me completely incredulous was that Roderick (Patrick Mower) was supposed to have been found by Lord Edward Whitman (Vincent Price)’s third wife. The problem is that she looks much younger than Roderick does, but it is claimed that she found him many years ago, when he was a boy:
– firstly, being Whitman’s third wife, she probably couldn’t have found him years ago – she likely wouldn’t have been around.
– secondly, Roderick looks to be in his thirties and she looks like she’s barely out of her twenties; there’s a huge discrepancy here as she might not of even been born when he was a young boy.
Perhaps Mower was meant to be playing a younger character, but, even if the character were just out of his teens, then Lady Whitman would have had to be around for about a decade to have found him, meaning that she was married to Whitman as a girl. While it’s conceivable, it just doesn’t appear well-thought out.
The cast is so-so: better than some films of the genre, but worse than the best of the bunch. Overall, the performances in ‘Cry of the Banshee’ are slightly camp, and Vincent Price wasn’t at all at his most subtle (I think he gave up trying to give a realistic performance somewhere in the mid-’60s! ), laughing like a loon and devouring the scenery whenever given a chance. It’s a shame, because he had talent and squandered it in his later years.
While ‘Cry of the Banshee’ is a middling effort, it is notable for one thing: its opening credits. Anyone who knows Terry Gilliam’s work with Monty Python will immediately recognize his style and the peculiar cut-out animation that made him famous (and helped give character to Python’s shows). It’s not his best animation (it’s hard to beat his opening credits for ‘Life of Brian’! ), but even his worst is always unique, original, and worth checking out.
In the end, ‘Cry of the Banshee’ was a cash-grab, not unlike some of the straight-to-video or late-night-cable stuff that we get nowadays; it would be shown in a few cinemas, make a small amount of money (enough to justify its production), and then they’d move on to the next cheapie. If anything, it’s an excuse for gratuitous toplessness and some mild sex; there’s not much story, and what there is is slow drama with a thriller ending.
It’s not entirely terrible, actually – but, to be objective, it’s not a good film. And yet, bizarrely, it’s nonetheless entertaining in its own peculiar way. It’s a far cry from the best of the Edgar Allen Poe-related films, but it’s also not ‘The Raven’ or ‘The Comedy of Terrors’. And that, for what it’s worth, is its most redeeming quality.