Wednesday, July 6, 2011

BURN, WITCH, BURN (Sidney Hayers, 1962, UK)

Norman Taylor must face his disbeliefs and intellectual limitations, his home a volatile house of tarot cards, summoning his charm to conjure wife. Director Sidney Hayers casts a cinematic spell of witchcraft and trickery by utilizing tight framing and solid compositions often dominated by looming statues, creating a sense of impending doom in a rational world. Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont adapt the classic Fritz Leiber novel into a believable domestic melodrama amid the politics of an English College.

Norman is a young and successful professor, well liked by his students and colleagues. He teaches the psychology of superstition, that it's the believer who powers the supernatural with post hoc fallacies and wishful thinking, not the ability to control reality with secret ceremonies and trinkets. But his wife Tansy believes that her charms guard Norman against the sinister urges of the faculty wives. Like the protagonist of Matheson's HELL HOUSE, Norman cannot accept the possibility of magic superseding science and it could drive him to madness. What makes the story so intriguing is that each encounter has a potential rationale explanation, either hypnosis or self-fulfilling prophecy. When Norman destroys his wife's protective charms and bad things begin to happen, he must race against time to save her from the evil clutches of a crippled witch...or from her own crippled beliefs.

The dénouement brings poetic justice to the vengeful and plotting antagonist: the eagle finally makes its landing.

Final Grade: (B)

3 comments:

Classic Film and TV Cafe said...

This is one of my favorite horror films of the 1960s, sort of a companion piece to NIGHT OF THE DEMON (but not that good). Both pics follow the Val Lewton school of horror filmmaking for the most part. My only problem--and it's with both films--is that the male protagonists refuse to believe even when the evidence is too hard to dismiss (sort of like Scully in X FILES). Still, a fine view and I love the closing shot of the blackboard.

Alex DeLarge said...

I tracked this down after reading about it in Matthew Bradley's comprehensive book on Richard Mattheson. His rave review did not disappoint!

I wish this were readily available on DVD as I had to stream from Netflix, though the quality was acceptable. The B&W cinematography was beautiful and the deep focus would benefit from 1080p.

I also just watched NIGHT OF THE DEMON, which I liked very much, and will soon post my review.

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