Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

220px-BurnwitchburnNorman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a professor at a prestigious British college where he teaches psychology, in particular the psychology behind superstition and various belief systems. When he finds out that his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), has been practicing witchcraft in order to protect them from what she believes are outside forces and attacks, he insists that she destroy all of her charms.

Almost immediately disaster reigns down on Norman and Tansy in the form of strange, hypnotic noises, lewd telephone calls, a near-death run in with a van and rape accusations. Norman shrugs it off as coincidence but as the strangeness continues he finds himself wondering if it was all true and if Tansy had been protecting them all along.

In the end it’s up to the audience to decide whether there was any real witchcraft going on or if it was all the power of suggestion.

Based on a novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber Jr. and a screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, this British black and white horror flick rises above the cheesy pre-credits sequence that American International slapped on it when it obtained the American distribution rights. Once Paul Fries finishes dispelling any evil spirits that could be caused by watching this movie, the film maintains a serious tone throughout and leaves AI’s attempt at camp behind.

Modern viewers may find this film slow and talky, but I found it to be a serious-minded, atmospheric examination of the power of suggestion and how easily it can be to be convinced of the supernatural when a person’s mind and body is stressed beyond endurance. The performances by Wyngarde, Blair and Margaret Johnston (as Flora Carr, a colleague of Norman’s) are top-notch and not once do they not handle the subject matter seriously.

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One Response to “Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)”

  1. tom October 31, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    A previous movie adaptation of “Conjure Wife,” called “Weird Woman,” was filmed in the 1940’s with Lon Chaney Jr. and Evelyn Ankers. There was also a 1970’s British made-for-TV movie (or maybe it was an episode of a TV anthology series), “Spell of Evil,” starring Diane Cilento, that had a similar premise.

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