Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Cry of the Banshee" (1970) d/Gordon Hessler

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Banish any visions of crimson-locked fairy women chasing hysterical celt lasses through the Scottish highlands from your consciousness before sitting down to watch tonight's review, as you're not gonna find such things in it. In fact, if you're looking for three dimensional characters, or even some semblance of originality from the screenplay, you may as well forget that, too. What you will encounter here is a generous helping of immortal genre-god Vincent Price, portraying as a barbaric magistrate/witchfinder as you're likely to find in one of these period pictures (certainly one of his, anyway), lustily pawing at wenches with the unmistakable pomp and pretense that old school horror fans know well and love even more. On top of that, factor in loads of  tasty eye candy of the day, not excluding Swedish Gemini, Essy Persson and A.I.P. genre reg, Hillary Heath of 'Oblong Box' and 'Witchfinder General' fame, none of which seem too concerned with being topless in a movie that was rated GP (all ages permitted!).

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"...Its! Vincent Python's Circus of Religious Persecution-on-on."
Lord Whitman (Price) graciously invites a pair of dirt merchants into the hall where an ostentatious feast is being held in his honor, to ridicule their impoverished state as Elizabethan magistrates often did in those days, but more so, to accuse of witchcraft and condemn to death, as was also wildly popular among the aristocratic class during that time period. Wenches get ogled, fondled, stripped, accused, publicly humiliated, and tortured according to schedule, with Whitman's eldest son (who blackmails his own step-mother for sex! Hot DAMN, this family is effed up.) and his two foul henchmen, Burke and Bully Boy (Michael Elphick, Andrew McCulloch), all doing their sadistic part to keep the villagers nicely gripped by constant terror. That is, until the magistrate's zeal leads him to an actual coven of real witches flitting around in the forest nearby, who's leader, Oona (Elizabeth Bergner), feels instantly compelled to bring a curse down upon the lascivious land baron and his entire house when she discovers that he's caused many of her followers to eat axe chop-death while netted like so many animals.

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"I want my tree pahdeydah's in advance, boyyo..."
The witch's curse takes the form of a sidhe, a magical shape-shifting/fake looking beast called upon to exact bloody off-camera revenge upon Whitman and his kin... or in this case,his faithful manservant, Roderick (Patrick Mower), who's got a way with animals and people (especially Whitman's daughter, Maureen) alike that deeply concerns Father Tom, who's only just returned home with the magistrate's youngest son, Harry.When family members start dropping like the Chicago Bears playoff hopes in November, Harry and the priest extirpate Oona from existence, while Maureen speeds a transformed Roderick to his maker via blunderbuss(!). Relieved to have lifted the curse from his family once and for all, Whitman packs up his remaining son and daughter into a coach for greener future pastures, but when he brazenly stops at Roderick's grave for a final hammy gloat, he finds the coffin empty, and once inside the coach, he discovers that Harry, Maureen, and Bully Boy have all been dispatched by Roderick, who drives off in the midst of the sounds of the lord's feeble screams...

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Stop, collaborate, and listen. Price tortures witchy bitches like the Inquisition...
After collecting this third collaborative credit with director Hessler (Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again would precede), Price did some tv work on shows like Love, American Style, Mod Squad, and Hilarious House on Frankenstein in the year leading up to his appearance in the Fuest cult classic Abominable Dr. Phibes(1971).You might recognize Michael Elphick from his later roles in movies like Quadrophenia (1979) and The Elephant Man (1980). You might also recognize the clever title sequence as one of Terry (Monty Python, Time Bandits, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, et al) Gilliam's.Not nearly as good as other similar Price vehicles, like 'Conqueror Worm', but still packed with enough classic Pricery, groovy topless witch-wenches, and hokey period sadism/misogyny to please the average genre nut. Despite some faults, it still merits a healthy three wop score in the end. Check it out!

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Her hair turned white while trying to memorize all the words to Edgar Winter's Frankenstein...
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