Night of the Eagle
|Night of the Eagle|
British original poster
|Directed by||Sidney Hayers|
|Produced by||Samuel Z. Arkoff
|Written by||George Baxt (uncredited)|
|Screenplay by||Charles Beaumont
|Based on||Conjure Wife
by Fritz Leiber
|Music by||William Alwyn|
|Editing by||Ralph Sheldon|
American International Pictures
|Release dates||May 1962
25 April 1962
|Running time||87 min|
Night of the Eagle is a 1962 British horror film directed by Sidney Hayers. The script by Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson and George Baxt was based upon the 1943 Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife. The film was retitled Burn, Witch, Burn! for the US market (not to be confused with the 1932 novel of the same name by Abraham Merritt).
Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a psychology professor lecturing about belief systems and superstition. He discovers that his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), is practicing witchcraft. She insists that her charms have been responsible for his rapid advancement in his academic career and for his general well-being. A firm rationalist, Norman is angered by her acceptance of superstition. He forces her to burn all of her magical paraphernalia. Almost immediately, things start to go wrong: a female student accuses Norman of rape, her boyfriend threatens him, and someone tries to break into Norman and Tansy's home. Tansy, willing to sacrifice her life for her husband, almost drowns herself and is, the film suggests, only saved at the last minute by Norman giving in to the practices he despises. Later, Tansy attacks him with a knife, but he manages to disarm her and lock her in her room. Her limping walk during the attack gives Norman a hint where to find the person responsible for his ill luck. He identifies university secretary Flora Carr (Margaret Johnston), the wife of a colleague whose career had stalled in favor of Norman's, as the perpetrator. Flora uses witchcraft to make his home, in which Tansy is trapped, go up in flames. Then, with the help of a ritualistic sound recording, Flora awakens the giant stone eagle on the top of the university building's entrance with the intention of making it attack Norman. Flora's husband arrives at the office and stops the tape machine. The eagle disappears, and Tansy manages to escape her burning home. On her way out of the campus, Flora passes the again immobile stone eagle. The statue topples over and crushes Flora, killing her.
While not universally regarded as a classic by critics, Night of the Eagle mostly met and meets with sympathetic reviews:
The New York Times called Night of the Eagle "quite the most effective 'supernatural' thriller since Village of the Damned" and perhaps the "best outright goose-pimpler dealing specifically with witchcraft since I Walked with a Zombie...in 1943." and noted:
- Simply as a suspense yarn, blending lurid conjecture and brisk reality, growing chillier by the minute, and finally whipping up an ice-cold crescendo of fright, the result is admirable. Excellently photographed (not a single "frame" is wasted), and cunningly directed by Sidney Hayers, the incidents gather a pounding, graphic drive that is diabolically teasing. The climax is a nightmarish hair-curler but, we maintain, entirely logical within the context.
Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader called the film "atmospheric and underplayed in the tradition of Val Lewton" and, despite judging Sidney Hayers' direction as "needlessly rhetorical at times", "eerily effective".
David Pirie of Time Out magazine, while not happy with the casting of Janet Blair, acknowledged Hayers' direction "an almost Wellesian flourish" and the script being "structured with incredible tightness".
Witchcraft had been a recurring theme in the horror genre, though often in combination with Therianthropy (humans turning into animals as in Cat People or The Wolf Man) or Voodoo myths (White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie). Night of the Eagle depicts the use of charms or supernatural powers in an 'everyday' environment and juxtaposes it with a rationalist view which is questioned during the progress of events. Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon (1957), to which William K. Everson compared it unfavourably, works in a similar way.
All three authors involved in Night of the Eagle's screenplay were prolific writers for film and television specializing in horror, mystery and science fiction. Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson in particular were repeatedly hired to adapt (though freely) the works of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft for the screen, and both were prolific writers for The Twilight Zone.
While the film was accessible to an under-aged audience in the U.S., it was rated "X" (adults only) in the UK on its initial release. It was later re-rated 15, then 12 for UK home video releases.
Film prints for the U.S. release were preceded by a narrated prologue in which the voice of Paul Frees was heard to intone a spell to protect the audience members from evil. For protection, American theater audiences were given a special pack of salt and words to an ancient incantation.
Novel and adaptions
Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife was first published (in shorter form) in 1943 in Unknown magazine and as a single book in 1953. For Night of the Eagle, the New England setting of the novel was changed to rural Britain. Weird Woman (1944, starring Lon Chaney Jr.) and Witches' Brew (1979, starring Teri Garr, Richard Benjamin, and Lana Turner) were also based on Conjure Wife.
The following DVD-Releases were available in 2011:
- Night of the Eagle, UK 2007, Optimum Releasing
- Burn, Witch, Burn!, US 2011, MGM (DVD-R "on demand").
Out of print are the 1995 US Image DVD, US-Laserdisc and VHS video titled Burn, Witch, Burn!, the British DVD-Box titled Horror Classics, consisting of The Masque of the Red Death, Night of the Eagle and Zoltan, Hound Of Dracula, and the British VHS video Night of the Eagle.
- Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 36
- July 5, 1962 review of Tales of Terror and Burn, Witch, Burn from The New York Times
- Review of Burn, Witch, Burn from Chicago Reader
- Everson, William K. (1974). Classics of the Horror Film.
- Review of Night of the Eagle in the 1999 edition of Time Out Film Guide, Penguin Books, London.
- Joshi, S. T. (2007). Icons of horror and the supernatural: an encyclopedia of our worst nightmares 2. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 716. ISBN 0-313-33782-9.
- "1963 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
- Night of the Eagle in the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) database.
- Burn Witch Burn on DVDtalk.com
- Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, Michael Weldon, Ballantine 1983
- Night of the Eagle at the Internet Movie Database
- Night of the Eagle at the TCM Movie Database
- Night of the Eagle at allmovie