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Those familiar with the concept of banshees would probably agree that CRY OF THE BANSHEE is a somewhat misleading title for this film. More than likely, as was the case with many of the American International productions, the title came first, the script later. Nonetheless, those looking for a horror tale containing bona fide Celtic mythology should probably look elsewhere. However, there is horror to be had here, and the film still does deliver what it promises.

CRY OF THE BANSHEE is set during the height of Middle Ages England, where rampant ignorance and superstition meant anyone could be condemned and burned for alleged witchcraft, and anyone you didn't like could be targeted. However, this being in the horror genre rather than an Arthur Miller play, the local inhabitants' fears are not entirely unjustified. Nonetheless, the greater threat is Lord Edward Whitman, the Witchfinder General (Vincent Price, drawing upon his own WITCHFINDER GENERAL, to which this was a follow-up, if not a sequel) and his family. They abuse their authority and keep the entire local population in their grip. 'Witches' are regularly found, and dispatched in the name of God. The Witchfinder gets more than he bargained for when he accosts a real witch, who decides to take revenge.

Vincent Price is an actor you can rely on to take even an average film up a notch, and he does so here. His presence, his voice, his face - he doesn't even have to try very hard, if he doesn’t want to, but this is not a film he walked through. His stage-honed gifts are on full display in CRY OF THE BANSHEE.

Fortunately, the horror elements of the film are front and center. Suspense is built up, the 'banshee' of the title is wisely heard rather than seen until the climax, and the end itself is very satisfying. The mood is bleak, the lighting is low, and the score (by AIP veteran Les Baxter) helps the action along without ever being out of place. Like many Hammer Horrors, there's a lot of nudity, in case everything else isn't enough to draw you in. The screenplay, by Christopher Wicking (writer of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN and BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB) and Tim Kelly, moves along nicely, and the direction by veteran Gordon Hessler (THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE) draws on the strengths of Price and the cast, and keeps the film suspenseful. A fine addition to the Price canon.

Watch for a very, very young Stephen Rea as a villager, and take note of the title sequence, which was designed and executed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam.


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