To give Cry Of The Banshee credit where credit is due, it didn’t completely steal everything from its superior forerunner. Whereas in The Conqueror Worm, there was an Edgar Allan Poe verse read by Vincent Price at the conclusion of the film, Cry Of The Banshee had a verse by Poe up on the screen at the beginning of the movie.
Cry Of The Banshee also decides to go all the way and dump real witches and werewolves into this movie instead of “keeping it real” like The Conqueror Worm did. You might think that that was a good idea, but it made me wonder what the whole point of the movie was.
Price plays Lord Whitman, the local magistrate who gets his kicks torturing the locals and getting them to admit that they’re witches. This surely makes him the bad guy, since I doubt that it can be argued that a guy who disfigures and murders people while cloaked in his religion isn’t the lowest form of scumbag out there.
Surely though some young buck in the village will rise up against his evil ways and liberate everyone from his reign of terror. This guy probably will have a personal motive, like his girlfriend was accused and captured by Lord Whitman. Ultimately, Lord Whitman would be revealed to be a demented fraud and end up on the receiving end of the torments he had gleefully dished out in the past. Something like what played out in The Conqueror Worm.
The problem with Cry Of The Banshee though is that while Lord Whitman is railing against the local threat of witches, it turns out there really are a bunch of witches cavorting around the countryside!
Knowing this, why should I be terribly outraged by Lord Whitman’s campaign against them? Truth be told, once I realized there really was a witch threat, I was irked that he wasn’t coming down harder on these broomstick riders!
As the local magistrate, his duty is to protect the citizens from being turned into frogs and stuff like that. As it all played out though, he seemed more interested in holding nice dinners for his friends and he had no control over his sons or henchmen who always seemed to be looking for witches in the blouses of the local serving wench.
Then, in one of the pivotal moments in the movie, he lets the leader of the witches go so that she would always remember how he killed most of her followers. Such a moronic course of action seems to merely exist to allow the plot move forward with its “witch revenge” angle. Wouldn’t any witch hunter with any brains kill the head witch?
With real witches infesting the area, the question arises as to whom it is that I’m supposed to be rooting for. Let’s assume that I’m a normal person who doesn’t want some crone casting a spell on me and making me heinous things like watch soccer? Wouldn’t I then be rooting for Lord Whitman?
Sure, he’s smarmy and prone to being a bit overzealous in search for these diabolical spellcasters and you could argue that sometimes some innocent people got all caught up in his witch trials, but these witches are tricky. Who knows whether these people were really telling the truth when they were denying their witchery even as they were being branded and burned alive? It’s not like he’s deluded or just doing it for kicks because these witches are really out there!
But let’s imagine that I’m not such a strong Christian and that I’m prone to using a little voodoo on some folks I don’t particularly care for every now and again. I’d have to be rooting for the witches then since they’re being persecuted by some religious tyrant.
Maybe the witches are the good guys and are just the 16th century version of the counterculture fighting the Man. (Remember, this was made in 1970 and the end credits refer to all the characters played by Price and his gang as “The Establishment.”)
Or maybe I don’t really care if two groups of superstitious boobs battle it out over some squalid bit of muddy English countryside?
And what’s with all this babble about the “old religion” the witches practice, but then they turn around and call on Satan to help them out? If you’re calling on Satan, then maybe the magistrate was right about you all along. The movie can’t even keep straight whether these witches are pagans or not.
Ill-conceived from the very beginning, the movie is unable to deliver either a clear protagonist and antagonist and only leaves you wishing that someone would have tapped American International Pictures on the shoulder and let them know that the whole Price-Poe stuff was finally played out.
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