Horror Movie Review – Burn, Witch, Burn! (Night of the Eagle)

Since I managed to get ahead of myself on the 15 Days of Horror thing, time to do something different. Since I just read Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife, I thought I’d do a tie-in between blogs and popped on Netflix to see which of the three movies based on the book were on streaming. The answer would be 1962’s Burn, Witch, Burn!, released as Night of the Eagle in its native land of England.

A quick rundown if you’re too lazy to read a review of the novel: Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a psychology professor at a small England college who lectures on beliefs and the supernatural right before he discovers his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) is a practicing witch. Being a man fueled by logic and reason, he has her burn all of her charms and occult paraphernalia. Wrong move; it turns out she was practicing white witchcraft to aid her husband’s career, and now the disbelieving Norman finds his once easy life is now fraught with peril (and large stone eagles).

There are a number of changes between the book and film, but most of them are marginal. Hempnell College was in New England in the book; because of its location the film dropped replaced the “New” with “Jolly Old.” Tansy no longer has her own dressing room to store her witch stuff in; instead, she keeps them in the drawer above where Norman keeps his pyjamas (British spelling, wot wot!). The stone dragon was replaced with a stone eagle, hence the schlocky original title, and comes complete with a transformation and Hilarious Superimposed Normal Hawk Footage (you can see the strings!). That’s pretty much it; the film is very accurate to its source material.

The biggest changes were with the characters. In the book, Norman was kind of a dick to his colleagues, considering himself better than them, but a loving husband devoted to Tansy; in the film, he’s a dick to everyone. In the book, you get a strong sense that Tansy is calm, collected, and working her butt off to save Norman even though she’s renounced witchcraft (see: the storm scene with the dragon); in the same scene in the film, along with most of her scenes, Tansy is an overemotional neurotic who spends a lot of time screaming. There’s also a bad run of trite dialogue early in the film, but other than that (and the screaming), the acting was fine.

I think the book was much better for handling suspense and tension, though the movie still gave its all. The film is pure budget British (or, British budget) from the early ’60s, so don’t expect a lot, even though Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont were the screenwriters. I think it’s a passable film, not a great movie or lost classic, but it covered the plot of the book without compromising.

As for whether it was scary or not… I’m not the best judge of that, having went into the movie knowing what was going to happen. The film follows the same pattern of strange events to build tension, but it does have some twists that made things interesting—most of them occurring near the end. I thought it was solid, if not outstanding.

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