Cry of the Banshee
Cry of the Banshee is a 1970 British horror film directed by Gordon Hessler and 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.
|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 (U.S theatrical version)|
Wilfred Josephs (uncut version)
|Edited by||Oswald Hafenrichter|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|29 July 1970 (U.S. release)|
|Box office||$1,306,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
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. It opens, like many Vincent Price movies, with a quote from Edgar Allan Poe—in this case, "The Bells".
Lord Edward Whitman (Vincent Price), as magistrate presides over the trial of a young woman. Ruling that she is a witch, he has her branded, whipped through the streets, then placed in the village stocks. That night, Lord Edward hosts a feast as his henchmen search the countryside for the killers of a sheep. Two poor and ragged-looking teenagers are pulled into the hall. A burst of wolf-like howling from outside the walls warns that they may be "devil-marked" and, in conflict, both teens are killed. His wife calls Whitman a murderer for this. As his eldest son Sean (Stephan Chase) rapes his father's wife (Lady Patricia) (Essy Persson), Lord Whitman begins mumbling he wants to "clean up" the witches in the area.
Assisted by his two older sons, Whitman goes hunting in the hills for witches. His armed posse breaks up what is apparently meant to be a witches' Black Sabbath. He kills several of them and tells the rest to scatter to the hills and never return. This angers the leader of the coven, Oona (Elizabeth Bergner). 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.
Eventually, Harry (Carl Rigg), Whitman's son from Cambridge, and Father Tom (Marshall Jones) find Oona and her coven conjuring the death of Maureen and kill Oona. At that moment, Roderick, who was attacking Maureen, breaks off and leaves her. He soon returns and attacks Lord Edward. During this attack, 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 can reassure himself Roderick is dead. To his horror, he finds the coffin empty, and hurries back to the coach. Once inside, he finds both Harry and Maureen dead. It is 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.
- Vincent Price as Lord Edward Whitman
- Essy Persson as Lady Patricia Whitman
- Elizabeth Bergner as Oona
- Hugh Griffith as Mickey
- Patrick Mower as Roderick
- Hilary Dwyer as Maureen Whitman
- Sally Geeson as Sarah
- Stephan Chase as Sean Whitman
- Carl Rigg as Harry Whitman
- Marshall Jones as Father Tom
- Andrew McCulloch as Bully Boy
- Michael Elphick as Burke
- Robert Hutton as Party Guest
- Peter Benson as uncredited
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- The titular "cry of the banshee" is a signal that someone will die. This is a Celtic legend about a type of ghost and has nothing to do with Satanism - no banshee appears in the film.
- The film was played at the first Quentin Tarantino Film Festival in 1997 at the Dobie residence hall near the University of Texas.
- It is mentioned in the Rob Zombie song "Demonoid Phenomenon", from his 1998 album Hellbilly Deluxe.
- The opening credits were created by Terry Gilliam.
- The film was promoted with a poem, spuriously attributed to Edgar Allan Poe:
Who spurs the beast the corpse will ride?
Who cries the cry that kills?
When Satan questioned, who replied?
Whence 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.
Gordon Hessler did not like Tim Kelly's original script and hired Chris Wicking to rewrite it. Hessler says he would have got Wicking to change it further and improving the witch characters - but AIP would not let him.
Hessler said "The film was sold and we had to have it finished by a certain time." He and Wicking went to Scotland to make a different picture about witches. They talked to witches and researched their history and made the witches more sympathetic.
Hessler says "the whole of AIP got so alarmed because we were changing it so much. They came down on us and said that we could alter it 10 percent, but no more than that. So all of our work went down the drain on Cry of the Banshee Out of all the films I did for AIP, I think it's the least interesting."
Wicking says he saw the film as a Jacobean revenge tragedy "but I didn't want to tell anybody that because they'd hate that."
Elisabeth Berger made her first appearance in an English film in 30 years. Hessler says AIP's head of British production "Deke" Hayward "would try to find some well known actor to dress up the picture--who at least Americans would be familiar with--which was a good idea." For this film Hayward suggested Hessler cast Elisabeth Bergner. "She was marvelous, out of her depths and aged at the time, and playing a very strange part. But she gave it her everything." Price says Berger told him she took the part "because she wanted to be seen".
Hessler thought Hilary Dwyer was under contract to AIP. "I don't know what the situation was, but they liked her and they kept pushing you to use certain actors. I guess the management must have thought she was star material or something like that."
"It's becoming harder and harder to scare people," said Price during filming. "We still rely on the basic elements of fear: snake, rates, claustrophobia, but we're adding all the time."
Hessler remembers when they did the film Price "was very upset with AIP" over contractual issues. "When we had the wrap party, he didn't want to come if Arkoff was there. I told him that I wouldn't dream of having the party without him. So he came, and of course he was quite drunk." Hessler says at the party everyone was in costume and a girl jumped out of a cake. "When we were looking for the knife to cut the cake, Vincent said, "Take the knife that's in my back and use that!"." (However following the making of the film, Price signed a four-picture contract with AIP over two years.)
Hessler wanted Bernard Herrmann to do the score but AIP could not afford him. The original music score was composed by Wilfred Josephs but AIP decided not to use it, commissioning a score by Les Baxter instead. Josephs' score was restored in the later uncut DVD releases. Hessler later said "Wilfred Josephs' music held the picture up, it made it more mysterious."
AIP also removed Terry Gilliam's animation credits. Hessler said, "Deke was the one who put that animation in, always being way in advance of everyone else. About the music, I suspect that Les Baxter was a great friend of somebody high up at AIP... But to have Les Baxter do a kind of period picture where you have minuet dancing and that sort of thing, it's ludicrous. You really have to have somebody who has an idea of that time period."
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 releaseEdit
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In April 1991, Cry of the Banshee was packaged as a Laserdisc double feature (Catalog Number ID7661HB), 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, which also restores the original Wilfred Josephs music score.
- 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
- "Interview with Gordon Hessler". You Tube.
- "Interview with Gordon Hessler". DVD Drive In.
- All's Well That Ends: an interview with Chris Wicking Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 55, Iss. 658, (Nov 1, 1988): 322.
- Top Man Among the Tombstones By RODERICK MANNLONDON.. New York Times 30 Nov 1969: D13.
- Janet MacLachlan in Role Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times 17 Oct 1969: h15.
- When Garbo, Freud and Kokoschka were young Gale, John. The Observer 2 Nov 1969: 21.
- Poetic Justice for Price Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 18 Sep 1970: e1.