In this feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been creeping through 90 years of horror cinema to assemble a highly personal list of the genre’s 120 most monstrous works, decade by decade.
As the list evolves, I’ll be including a retroactive addition or two to installments past. Here’s one.
51. Night of the Eagle (1962- dir. Sidney Hayers)
Two years before “Bewitched” played the same premise for giggles, Britain’s Night of the Eagle introduced Tansy Taylor (Janet Blair), a pretty witch whose supernatural pursuits helped boost husband Norman’s (Peter Wyngarde) career. When rationalist Norman learns of his wife’s transgressions against science, he has her burn all of her talismans, potions, and witchy doodads. The consequences are dire, although not for the reasons we viewers are first led to believe. Based on Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife, Night of the Eagle is unique for its time because it does not take a wholly negative stance on witchcraft. Tansy is a good woman possessing powers her dopey hubby just doesn’t understand. When he forces her to remove the good-luck spell she cast on him, everything positive in his life unravels. Had the film run its course on that premise alone, it would still be praiseworthy, but screenwriters Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont make it even better by tossing in a third act twist that enhances the intricacy and makes way for one hell of a villain. Anyone familiar with the writers’ celebrated work on “The Twilight Zone” should have suspected Night of the Eagle might not follow a straight line. That clever, wordplay-rich script powers the film, but Sidney Hayers’s inventive direction, Reginald Wyer’s deep-focus cinematography, and razzle-dazzle performances from Blair and Margaret Johnson as the bitter wife of Norman’s rival are also integral to its excellence. Paul Frees, Phantom-in-Chief of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, provided the opening narration creepily recited over a blank, black screen. AIP provided the less-subtle title Burn Witch Burn by which the film is known in the U.S.
Tune in Monday for Psychobabble’s 120 Essential Horror Movies Part 8: The 1990s!