Monday, June 27, 2011

BURN, WITCH, BURN

The highly-regarded second film adaptation of Fritz Lieber's famous short story, Conjure Wife (after Universal's 1944 "Inner Sanctum" version, WEIRD WOMAN) finally comes to DVD with the MGM Limited Edition Collection edition of BURN, WITCH, BURN (1962). Originally intended for the studio's now-defunct and much lamented "Midnite Movies" line, this top-notch supernatural thriller should be a welcome addition to any gothic horror fan's video library.

College professor Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde, FLASH GORDON) frequently lectures his classes on the fallacy of the supernatural and how belief in witchcraft and spirits is complete hooey. So, imagine his surprise and dismay when he discovers that his own wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), not only believes in witchcraft, but has been using it to help his career and protect him from those who wish him ill. Furious, he orders her to destroy her collection of talismans and charms and cease her practices at once. Unfortunately, he may have been rash; the very next day he is accused of rape by one student, assaulted by another, nearly run down by a truck that appears from out of nowhere, and his wife seems to become possessed by an evil spirit! How does an eminently rational mind deal with and defeat the threat of the unnatural?

In part a satire on academia and its politics, BURN, WITCH, BURN is well-directed by Sidney Hayers (CIRCUS OF HORRORS), who manages to sustain a sinister air throughout. The black & white cinematography by Reg Wyler is nicely atmospheric, as well. The mostly-British cast is excellent, with American Janet Blair easily holding her own opposite the intense Wyngarde. Special effects are minimal, but mostly effective, and the musical score by William Allwyn is excellent. All of these elements, combined with a literate and intelligent script by acclaimed fantasists Richard Matheson & Charles Beaumont, result in an extraordinarily effective supernatural thriller on a par with Jacques Tourneur's NIGHT OF THE DEMON.

This edition also includes the distributor-added U.S. prologue sequence wherein the disembodied voice of Paul Frees warns the audience about the power of the witchcraft in the film they're about to see, and casts a spell to protect the audience from its evil influence. It's delightful hokum, and sets the mood pretty well.

Originally intended for the the studio's much-missed "Midnite Movies" line, the burned-to-order DVD from the MGM Limited Edition Collection is frankly beautiful, with a remarkably clean, remastered, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The black & white print is near-immaculate, with only minimal, intermittent speckling. Blacks are rock solid, contrast is excellent, and detail is exceptional. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is clear and well-balanced. Clearly, some work was put into preparing this film for disc. The only extra is the original theatrical trailer.

They don't make suspense thrillers like this anymore, and that's a shame. Smart, scary, and extraordinarily well-acted, BURN, WITCH, BURN is a must-see for fans of classic horror. Highly recommended.

BUYBurn, Witch, Burn!