Cry of the Banshee

Cry of the Banshee

Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

Tonight’s oh-so-classy viewing attempts to add a bit of high culture to my ouvre — they’ve got accents! It’s almost Shakespearean! 1970’s Cry of the Banshee was directed by Gordon Hessler, who also directed Scream and Scream Again and The Oblong Box. Vincent Price stars, chewing the English countryside to tiny bits as it is his magnificent gift to do.

In this little Technicolor tempest, Vincent Price plays Lord Edward Whitman, a magistrate in Renaissance England who is on a crusade to rid his region of witches. He has no end of troubles, considering that Oona, the priestess of the local witch coven, can summon the devil to rip flesh from bone and slaughter people all bloody-like with poppets (“voodoo dolls” to the casual ’70s viewer). Of course, Whitty himself ain’t exactly a peach; he loves him some torture, and buries knives in bellies with minimal provocation; when it comes to witch-hunting, he’s of the “burn her alive, ask questions… or don’t really bother asking questions, it’s just so damn fun to burn people, let’s do it some more!” school.

On the other hand, when it comes to skewering the elusive Oona, Eddie boy takes the witch burning all serious; as he puts it at one point when addressing his villagers, “To find her, I’ll kill as many of you as it takes!” And oh, he does, cheerfully, even gleefully, as only Vincent Price can do.

Meanwhile, though, everybody’s taking their tops off and jiggling Renaissance knockers all the fudge over the place in a frenzied explosion of brandin’, torturin’, rape, semi-rape, cheerful fornication, stolid fornication, inexplicable nudity — and those are just the Christians. Trot out the Pagazoids for a little counterattack and next thing u know everybody’s sitting crosslegged in their Grecian underwear yowling lengthy syllables and performing the shimmy-shake of Satan. But let me back up here — it’s not so much the devil these coed covens are into; it’s described several times as the “old religion,” and is described as such in the original ultra-weird movie poster. (What does any of it have to do with Edgar Allan Poe? Not the faintest fucking idea, friends). I actually found that aspect of the flick kinda interesting — it’s a conflict of cultures, and not so much good vs. evil but evil vs. evil, and lustful-rapacious-violent vs. violent-rapacious-lustful. Let’s not read too much into it, though… Panic in Year Zero! this ain’t, after all. Ha ha ha ha, that’s a little Skid Roche brand joke.

It should come as no surprise that Cry of the Banshee showed at the first Quentin Tarantino Film Festival. This is one frisky Elizabethan freakfest, and for all its prurient randomness is actually a succulent morsel of divine trash if gory B-movie sleaze is your rotgut.


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