Retro: our movie & TV vault... a fresh look
at neglected classics and cult favourites
Like Lon Chaney's Weird Woman (1944), this black and white British chiller was also adapted
from the nondescript genre novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber...
University lecturer Norman has led a charmed life for two years, ever since surviving a car crash in Jamaica. Then, one day, his wife Tansy's frantic search for a lost 'souvenir' leads him to uncover her dark secret; witchcraft. His firmly rational worldview makes him ignore good luck charms and their 'protections' as superstitious nonsense, and he scoffs at Tansy's prized collection of dried spiders in little pots, vials of graveyard earth and arcane rituals - until he burns his wife's talisman stash. The act is treated as his very own personal apocalypse. And, from that moment, the eternal sceptic is doomed.
First he gets sexy phone calls from student Margaret, who later claims that Norman raped her. His career now blighted, the doubting professor is duly threatened with a gun by the girl's jealous boyfriend. Then, if the freak storms, power failure and something scratching at the front door aren't spooky enough to convince - how about a burning house of tarot cards to come home to?
Norman's wife, now desperate to save disbelieving hubby, tries shifting the curse onto her own head, but you can only ward off bad news for so long; if you let your guard down for a moment it all catches up with you at once. The poor professor is that proverbial disaster waiting to happen.
Although the central pair of performances from Peter (Jason King) Wyngarde and Janet Blair is of variable quality, the film offers more than just a combination of generic set pieces. It's a quite exceptional jigsaw portrait of provincial middle class attitudes engaged in direct conflict with those 'forces of darkness' that have characterised many a supernatural thriller of the postwar era, at a time when choice fantastic cinema was unfairly dominated by SF and monster movies.
Comparable in many ways to the rightly respected Night Of The Demon (1957), and Don Sharp's Witchcraft (1964), Night Of The Eagle (aka: Burn, Witch, Burn) climaxes with the 'suggested' attack of a giant bird of prey, supernaturally bought to life from a stone carving. As with the phantom menaces of 1963's The Haunting, the spectral eagle here is at its most fearsome when barely glimpsed on screen. The fleeting shots of clawed statues and an oak door being smashed in are well staged indeed.