Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January, Jules is at it again in March, treating us to a chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.
You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.
Starring: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston
Director: Sidney Hayers
Very much in the vein of the subtle and ambiguous witchcraft films of recent years such as Night Of The Demon and City Of The Dead, Night Of The Eagle (or the more lurid Burn, Witch, Burn! if you’re in the USA) keeps its cards close to it’s chest for most of its run time.
On the surface, at least early on, it’s more psychological drama, mixing college politics and relationship issues, but slowly allows the concept of the supernatural seep in, initially with some space for scepticism even. By the end though, there’s no doubt at all that there’s more to the world than what we can prove.
Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a psychology professor specialising in belief systems and superstition. After a card night in his home with colleagues and their wives, he discovers a handmade doll (a poppet) which his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) identifies as a magical curse, left by the wife of one of his rivals.
As it turns out, Tansy is a practitioner of witchcraft herself, Obeah to be precise, which she learned while in Jamaica and what she credits her husband’s rapid success at the college with. Norman is a firm rationalist though and not only denies the very existence of magic, but forces her to burn all her occult paraphernalia.
It’s from then in that things start going wrong, though. He’s accused of rape by one of his students, her boyfriend comes after him with a gun and someone tries to break into his home. Fearing that he is under a curse, Tansy tries to offer herself up instead with a suicide attempt before trying to murder her now-more believing husband while in a trance. Someone is out to get him and they are using witchcraft to do it…
There’s something wonderfully reserved about Night Of The Eagle. From the polite but backstabbing world of the college environment, to the mostly reigned-in performance of Peter Wyngarde and the way that the evidence of the occult is at first mocked then slowly but surely laid out, it’s all very…well, British. In the best possible way.
Based upon the 1943 Fritz Leiber novel Conjure Wife, the script was pulled together by a trio of top drawer talent in the shape of Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone), George Baxt (Circus Of Horrors, City Of The Dead) and Richard Matheson (I Am Legend), is it’s no wonder that the story is so pin-sharp.
The characterisation is spot on, not just in Wyngarde’s arrogant academic, but in the people around him. Blair totally convinces both as the loving wife keeping her husband’s career afloat with middle class magic and in her sheer terror when she realises the danger he is now in.
It’s Margaret Johnson as university secretary Flora Carr who really steals it though. As supportive of her own husband as Tansy is of hers, she’s perfectly prepared to use the blackest of magics to get her husband’s career going and Johnson gives her just the right balance of barely-hidden malevolence.
Atmospheric, subtle and chilling in all the right ways, Night Of The Eagle is full of great moments and bolstered by a great cast bringing to life a great script. Highly recommended.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy