Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!
There’s a weird point in horror movie history where suddenly nudity became a part of the picture. There’s an even weirder point in the history of horror movies where nudity crept into classier side of the horror movie industry. I expect nudity when it comes to the seamier side of horror, but it’s for some reason always a little surprising to me when it shows up in something that stars Peter Cushing or Vincent Price. Enter Cry of the Banshee, a Vincent Price vehicle that takes place in Elizabethan England and confronts us with multiple instances of rape and forced nudity.
We’re going to start with magistrate Lord Edward Whitman (Price). We see him preside over a witch trial and condemn the girl to being stripped and whipped through the streets. Later, at a dinner, he brings in a girl and her brother, accuses them of witchcraft, and ends up killing them both. This brings out the ire of his second wife Patricia (Essy Persson), who leaves the party. Because we’re going to want to amp up the sleaze right away, Whitman’s son Sean (Stephan Chase) follows her and forces himself on her, his step-mother. And, because of when this was made, we’re going to see her not merely succumb to this, but accept it, because of course that’s going to happen.
These events don’t cause Edward Whitman to rethink his actions but instead cause him to double down on them. Removing all of the witches (both suspected and, as we will soon learn, actual) from the area because his new goal. Edward and Sean go off into the countryside to find a coven led by Oona (Elisabeth Bergner). A couple of the witches are killed and the rest are dispersed, but this, as you might expect, means war.
Once safely away, Oona and the remaining witches summon a demon to take over the body of Roderick (Patrick Mower), the most trusted servant of the Whitman family and the secret lover of Edward Whitman’s daughter Maureen (Hilary Dwyer). When the Whitman family starts dying—both guilty and innocent—things start to spiral out of control. There’s death a-plenty to follow as the film catapults itself into the third act.
Here’s the thing about Cry of the Banshee: it’s a lot less memorable than it should be. I watched this a couple of days before writing this and I’m struggling to have any real solid things to say about it or recall about it. I typically write up a movie right after watching it, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it once the final reel went past on this one.
I do like the fact that we’re given a coven of witches that actually has some power and isn’t afraid to use it. I like as well that the witches here are absolutely going with a scorched earth policy in their revenge. Anyone with the last name of Whitman is on the hook for the sins of the father and one of the sons. Second wife Patricia, daughter Maureen, and much more mild-tempered son Harry (Carl Rigg) are not going to be held blameless for his transgressions. It’s Old Testament-style retribution, and that’s pretty great.
Beyond that, there’s not a lot here to recommend it. It’s a pretty standard period piece—the costuming is good and it looks relatively like we expect a movie that takes place in this time period to look like. The presence of Vincent Price adds to this as well—he lends a good amount of gravitas to anything he’s in simply by virtue of it being Vincent Price.
I just…am getting tired of the plot point that requires a woman to not only be raped but also eventually give in and accept it. I realize this is 50 years old, but seriously, why was this ever a thing?
Why to watch Cry of the Banshee: Scorched earth witches.
Why not to watch: There’s very little here worth remembering.