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Burn, Witch, Burn

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    Ian Jane
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  • Burn, Witch, Burn



    Released by: MGM Limited Edition Collection
    Released on: 5/16/2011
    Director: Sidney Hayers
    Cast: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnson
    Year: 1962
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    The Movie:

    Known in its native England as Night Of The Eagle, Sidney Hayer's 1964 film was distributed in North America by AIP under the more sensationalist title of Burn, Witch Burn. Though it was released on VHS by MGM years back, it's never appeared on DVD in North America prior to this MOD (manufactured on demand) DVD-R release from the MGM Limited Edition Collection.

    Adapted by Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson from story by Fritz Leiber Jr., the movie stars Peter Wyngarde as a professor named Norman Taylor. His life is going quite well when we meet him. Though he's new to the school he's popular with his students, a pretty blonde one in particular, and has earned the respect of his peers. What he doesn't realize is that his lovely wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), has been practicing witchcraft and that she believes her rituals to be the source of their good fortune. When he finds out what she's been up to and proceeds to burn all of her talismans, inadvertently throwing a picture of himself into the fire as well, things start to change very quickly. Of course, Norman doesn't believe Tansy when she tells him that his co-workers are actually using magic of their own against him and that she was protecting him all this time.

    Burn, Witch, Burn starts of strong and keeps moving at a good pace throughout. The opening prologue, in which an unseen narrator speaks overtop of a black screen and recites an incantation which he claims will protect the audience from whatever evil spirits are called up during the movie, is a nice gimmicky touch but the story is strong enough on its own that it doesn't really need the gimmick to work. From the very first scene, in which we see Norman educating his sociology class about the foolishness of the supernatural we know he's in for a rude awakening but there are some clever twists throughout the film that keep as guessing as to just how that's all going to happen. Of course, this opening scene in the school sets up what is essentially the film's central conflict, and that's the rationale juxtaposed against the supernatural, something which Norman's logical thought processes have plenty of trouble accepting. This is more than just a movie about a man who argues with his witchy wife, more than a movie that pits a modern and educated man against arcane rituals from what he believes to be long dead religions, it's a film that examines our tendency to discount that which we don't personally believe in and the repercussions that can come from that line of thinking (in this case, very unlikely repercussions).

    Shot in black and white the film makes great use of its small English town locations. The school Norman works in is appropriately stodgy looking while the home he shares with his wife a classy, old fashioned abode that takes on an appropriately eerie persona all its own once the lights go out. Sidney Hayers, probably best known for direction Circus Of Horrors and loads of TV shows both in the UK and America, keeps the film moving quickly but lets us get to know the two central characters well enough that they're more than just stereotypes. The performances are good across the board, with both Blair and Wyngarde playing their roles very effectively. Blair in particular shines here, as you get the impression that her character really is far more concerned about all of this supernatural stuff than her husband would ever want her to be, albeit for his sake more so than hers. There's plenty of style, the film is very nicely shot by cinematographer Reginald Wyer and makes great use of contrast and shadow throughout. William Alwyn's score is also very strong, highlighting both the drama and the horror in equal parts.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    MGM's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks pretty good. The black and white image does show some wear and tear and some scenes show a good bit more print damage than others for some reason but overall the image is pretty stable and it looks good in widescreen. Contrast is decent, black levels reasonably solid though never quite reference quality, and detail good as well.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language Dolby Digital Mono track, there are no alternate language tracks or subtitles provided. The clarity is generally fine, though there are bits that sound a little flat, which likely stems back to the source. Minor hiss is present once or twice but if you're not listening for it you probably won't be bothered by it.

    The disc includes a static menu, chapter selection, and the film's original theatrical trailer for extras. Optimum released this film on DVD in the UK in 2007 and that release didn't even have the trailer, so this is actually an improvement in that regard.

    The Final Word:

    A spooky and atmospheric British horror film with some great gothic ambience, awesome sets, and some solid performances, Burn Witch Burn looks and sounds pretty good in MOD format thanks to MGM's efforts. More extras certainly would have been welcome by the film's fans but at least it's got a trailer and the film is presented in very nice shape.















    • Mike T
      #1
      Mike T commented
      Editing a comment
      Having just received my copy of the Optimum disc, I would hazard a guess that the exclusion of the trailer therein would come down to StudioCanal not being able to obtain a trailer with the original British title, Night of the Eagle. As StudioCanal hold the UK licence for the Anglo Amalgamated library, who were the film's British production company, the MGM/UA trailer under the alternate Burn, Witch, Burn title would have been produced exclusively for the American market. However, image quality of the main feature is comparative with the US release as shown here; although Optimum's edition is framed at 1.78 as opposed to 1.85.
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