Thursday, March 17, 2011

There ain't much Irish in this Banshee

According to the original Irish legends, the banshee is a spirit that followed five powerful Irish clans and her mournful howls would fill the darkness of the eve before one of their numbers were to come to a dark end. Recent tales have expanded the nature of the banshee to a more general nature... although one has to wonder if the creators of this film even bothered looking up the word "banshee" in a dictionary.

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I present a review of a movie featuring the Banshee... kinda. And while the Banshee may be an Irish spirit, it admittedly has about as much to do with St. Patrick as this movie has to do with the Banshee. (This is an expanded version of a review that appears in Movies You Should (Die Before You) See.)

Cry of the Banshee (1970)
Starring: Vincent Price, Hilary Dwyer, Patrick Mower, and Elizabeth Bergner
Director: Gordon Hessler
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When the ruthless, psychopathic Lord Edward Whitman (Price) has a coven of witches massacred, the leader (Bergner) escapes and calls forth a Banshee that will visit death and destruction upon the entire Whitman line, until it exists no more.

Every so often, a movie comes along where every character in it is so unlikeable or so one-dimensional and flat that the viewer really doesn't care what happens to them, and has no one in particular to root for or identify with. "Cry of the Banshee" is one of those films.

The writing here is so bad that not even Vincent Price, who usually manages to bring a fresh feel to even the corniest villian, and some degree of twisted charm to even the worst psychopathic murderer, can tease anything from the character of Edward Whitman other than "this is a bloodthirsty upperclass twit in Elizabethan England who gets off on killing buxom peasant wenches suspected of performing pagan rituals in the woods."

The opposite side of the story--the coven leader Oona--is a performance that stands as a tribute to the questionable gift of overacting. Then there's the story problem that her "revenge" is as broad and uncalled for as the atrocities of Lord Edward's random witch-hunts.

The most glaring example of how bad this movie is the complete illiteracy of anyone involved with the production side. A simple consultation of a dictionary to find the defintion of "banshee" would have gone a long way to making this movie a little less dumb.

The film almost redeems itself at the end with a nicely executed twist (even if the sudden shift in Price's character was a little odd) and there's some honest-to-god horror to be found there, as opposed to simple sadism and brutality, but it's too little and too late. By then, "Cry of the Banshee" is firmly in the Bad category. (There are worse--and director Hessler is responsible for some them, such as "Scream and Scream Again"--but there are also far, far better.)

Trivia: The opening titles sequence was by Terry Gilliam of "Monte Python" and "Time Bandits" fame. It's pretty nifty and more creative than "Cry of the Banshee" deserves.