Cry of the Banshee
|Cry of the Banshee|
Theatrical release poster.
|Directed by||Gordon Hessler|
|Produced by||Louis M. Heyward
Samuel Z. Arkoff
James H. Nicholson
|Written by||Tim Kelly
Christopher Wicking (screenplay)
|Based on||story by Tim Kelly|
|Music by||Les Baxter|
|Edited by||Oswald Hafenrichter|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Release date(s)||Jul 29, 1970 (U.S. release)|
|Running time||91 min.|
|Box office||$1,306,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
Cry of the Banshee is a 1970 horror film directed by Gordon Hessler, starring Vincent Price as an evil witchhunter. The film was released by American International Pictures. The film costars Elizabeth Bergner, Hilary Dwyer, and Hugh Griffith. The script by Christopher Wicking and Tim Kelly is loosely based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe, but has nothing to do with the exact story.
The title credit sequence was animated by Terry Gilliam.
The film is set in Elizabethan England and revolves around a wicked magistrate who tries to kill all the members of a coven of witches.
Lord Edward Whitman (Vincent Price) is hosting a great feast when suddenly two poor and ragged-looking little children enter the great hall. A burst of wolf-like howling from outside the walls warns that they may be "devil-marked." The lord decides to kill them in spite of the risk. As his shifty eldest son Sean (Stephan Chase) sleeps with his father's pretty young wife Lady Patricia (Essy Persson), and his daughter seeks out her favorite hairy-chested servant for comfort, Lord Whitman begins mumbling that he wants to "clean up" the witches in the area, especially "that decrepit old bag, Oona."
Assisted by his two older sons, Whitman goes hunting in the hills for witches, odd characters, and "persons of interest." His armed posse breaks up what is apparently meant to be a witches' Black Sabbath, but none of the strangely glassy-eyed and zombie-like young people dancing slowly in their underwear seems to have any knowledge of Oona's whereabouts. Whitman gives the order to "torch this place, grease 'em all" and many of Oona's followers are killed.
This makes the leader of the coven, Oona (Elizabeth Bergner), extremely angry. To get revenge on the Whitman clan Oona calls up a magical servant, a "sidhe", to destroy the lord's family. Unfortunately, the demonic beast takes possession of the friendly, decent young servant, Roderick (Patrick Mower), that free-spirited Maureen Whitman (Hilary Dwyer) has been in love with for years. The servant turned demon begins to systematically kill off members of the Whitman family, until only Lord Whitman and his daughter are left.
Meanwhile, Harry (Carl Rigg), Whitman's son from Cambridge, and Father Tom (Marshall Jones) find Oona and kill her. Maureen shoots the demon in the head with a blunderbuss, apparently killing him. Exhilarated that the curse is over, Whitman plans to leave the house with his two remaining children by coach. On the way, he stops at the cemetery, so he may have one last gloat at Roderick's corpse. To his horror, he finds the coffin empty, and hurries back to the coach, only to find both Harry and Maureen dead. It is then revealed that Bully Boy (Andrew McCulloch), the coach's driver, was murdered by Roderick, who is now driving the coach.
The film ends with Whitman screeching his driver's name in terror, as the coach heads for parts unknown.
The titular "cry of the banshee" is the signal that someone will die.
- The film was played at the first Quentin Tarantino Film Festival in 1997 at the Dobie residence hall near the University of Texas.
- The opening credits were created by Terry Gilliam.
- The film was promoted with a poem that went:
"Who spurs the beast the corpse will ride?
"Who cries the cry that kills?
"When Satan questioned, who replied?
"Whenst blows this wind that chills?
"Who walks amongst these empty graves
"And seeks a place to lie?
"'Tis something God ne'er had planned,
"A thing that ne'er had learned to die."
This verse was spuriously attributed to Edgar Allan Poe.
Gordon Hessler did not like Tim Kelly's original script and hired Chris Wicking to rewrite it. Hessler says he would have gotten Wicking to change it more - including making the witch characters more good - but AIP would not let him. The original music score was done by Wilfred Josephs but AIP decided not to do it and use a score by Les Baxter instead. Elisabeth Bergner plays a small role; it was her first appearance in a movie in 29 years.
The US theatrical release featured the "GP" rated print which replaced the opening animated credits with still ones, completely altered the music score, and was cut to remove all footage of topless nudity and to tone down assorted whippings and assault scenes. This print was also used for the original UK cinema release in 1970. The film was a commercial success but Hessler was dissatisfied with it and calls it the least interesting of the four movies he made for AIP.
Home Video Release
In April 1991, Cry of the Banshee was packaged as a Laserdisc double feature, paired with the first of the Count Yorga movies, Count Yorga, Vampire. Both films were not letterboxed, but employed a full screen, pan-and-scan process.
The 1988 UK Guild video release featured the same heavily edited print as the US and UK cinema ones. All DVD releases however have featured the full uncut version.
- Tom Weaver, "Gordon Hessler", Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes: The Mutant Melding of Two Volumes of Classic Interviews 2000 McFarland, p 148
- "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11
- Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p279
- Cry Of The Banshee at the Internet Movie Database
- Cry of the Banshee at AllMovie
- Cry of the Banshee trailer at MGM films