Forgotten Films: Burn, Witch, Burn, (1962)
This is the 92nd in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
I can be pretty devoted to the writers and artists that I really enjoy. Among my favorite writers was Fritz Leiber, Jr. I first encountered his work with the novels GATHER DARKNESS and CONJURE WIFE. I enjoyed them both a lot. I read many of his other novels and they were very, very good. I had met him at some World Fantasy Conventions and enjoyed listening to him there (though his speech at the WFC in Ft. Worth is memorable for its unending dullness; people were slitting their wrists to get away). And I remembered being crushed when I heard he had died.
So, when I learned that CONJURE WIFE had been filmed I had to see it. Unfortunately, obscure British horror films were not generally available on VHS in the early 80’s and somehow, I could not depend on the cable channels to pull this from their archives.
So, when I found the VHS for sale at a convention, I jumped on it. And, boy, was I glad I did! For some reason, this did not achieve great popularity in the US. Part of that is, perhaps, its British setting. But with a screenplay by Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont (two other heroes), how could it miss?
The story is a natural. College Professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) teaches Sociology and has been remarkably successful at the college. He is now up for the Chairmanship of his department. He and his wife Tansy (the wonderful Janet Blair) have a modest life and a cottage away at the coast. On Fridays they play bridge with other faculty members and their wives.
Among the things he teaches is a course involving superstitions and how these are totally outmoded during the day of scientific evidence. So when he discovers his wife, it becomes a major issue. He makes her taken down all her charms and talismans and destroys them even as she pleads with him. Tansy, you see, is a witch as are all women. And she is protecting her man from the jealous in-fighting that academe produces. Others use their magic to advance their husband’s (or their own) careers. Tansy is doing protective work. And, with the protection destroyed, bad things begin to happen. There is the question of a possible improper relationship and possibly even rape. There are the unexplained power outages and weird weather. And the audio tape of Norman’s lecture with the weird keening sound in the background that is driving Tansy nuts. What was really pounding on the door during the storm as Norman attempts to open it and Tansy pleads desperately for him not to do so? And what bargain does Tansy make to save Norman’s life because that is what is on the line? And what is the deal with the stone eagles around campus. In the UK, this was known as NIGHT OF THE EAGLES which I thought was a hideous title.
It is good low budget film with some special effects and lots of psychological horror going on. Janet Blair is pretty convincing as Tansy. I was surprised when I looked up her catalogue of work at home much she had done. The rest of the cast works very well too. The ending seems a little sudden and I am not sure it works, but I did not care. Short, sweet, powerful film. You should check it out.
According to IMDB this is the third (of four) attempts to film the novel. The first was Lon Chaney Jr’s WEIRD WOMAN in 1944. The description of the story sounds nothing at all like CONJURE WIFE The second was a TV segment of the show Moment of Fear from 1960 though at 30 minutes I doubt it had much going for it. Finally, in 1980, the film WITCHES’ BREW. The description calls it more of a spoof though the cast with Teri Garr (a real favorite of mine) and Richard Benjamin sounds intriguing. I may have to check it out.
It appears the film is available on the Internet. Wal-Mart has it on demand for $2.99 though it may be totally free on YouTube. Netflix also has it. Individual copies do not appear to be available inexpensively.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.