Monday, November 21, 2016

Lightly Toasted

Amazon Prime’s streaming is an odd duck of a service. There are some fantastic popular and rare titles available to watch, but the one sentence synopsis and lack of listing a director OR year of release makes it rather challenging to have any clue what you may be watching. 

Such was the case with today’s feature, a classy little drama with genre touches that seems, based on the title and poster Amazon went with, to instead be a bloody period tale of witchcraft and fire.

Quick Plot: Norman Taylor is a successful college professor with high ambitions of chairing his department. Back home, his wife Tansy has some trouble interacting with his colleagues in social settings, preferring to spend her time alone at their secluded beach cottage. Could it be because it's a safer place to practice THE BLACK ARTS?

Well, yes, actually, and who can blame her when the alternative is playing bridge with stuffy academics? Tansy, you see, has picked up some witchcraft skills after a trip to Jamaica. Though her skeptic of a husband doesn't believe her, she insists that she's been using her spells to help his career advance. Offended by her silly beliefs (Norman, in case you haven't guessed, is a jerk), he forces Tansy to burn all of her occult items. Included in that stash is a locket that just so happens to have a picture of Norman inside.

Naturally--or SUPERnaturally, if you will--the Taylors have to pay. Norman is accused of raping one of his female students, then barely escapes being shot by her jealous boyfriend. Tansy decides the only way to save her husband is to sacrifice herself in his place, but Norman isn’t quite willing to let that happen, nor is the mysterious REAL villain who has been manipulating forces from the very beginning.

Based on the title and poster, I was expecting Burn, Witch, Burn (aka The Night of the Eagle, which makes a lot of sense in the final act) to be more along the Hammer-y lines of a Mark of the Devil or other often Vincent Price-filled classics. In other words, burnings at stakes, dunkings, stocks, bad wigs, and lots of pointed fingers. 

That is not this film.

That’s a good and bad thing. The bad because, hey, I love me a good inquisition exploitation flick. Good because, well, Burn, Witch, Burn is actually quite a strong film. Director Sidney Hayers worked primarily in television, and the style feels almost Twilight Zone-esque in terms of staging and performances. Co-written by, whaddya know, Twilight Zone scribes (and sci-fi icons) Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, Burn, Witch, Burn ultimately plays out like a feature adaptation of a Rod Serling classic. The climax is surprisingly unnerving, even with its 60+ year limitations of aging special effects. 

Or maybe I’m just a sucker for a good old-fashioned birding. 

High Points
Though I wish it had been pushed further, it’s clear that the film is acknowledging some interesting gender issues in terms of its Lady MacBeth-like details. The women in this film will fiercely work towards pushing their men into success, while the partners in question seem to barely deserve their bedside company. 

Low Points
It’s a product of its time, but I can’t help to feel like the happy, Hayes Code-friendly ending feels like a disappointment

Lessons Learned
You can hypnotize the bad, but you can't hypnotize the cards

Cottages are a great way to avoid committees and teas 

Lounging wear for women in the early 1960s was the equivalent of church or campaign-wear in the 21st century

Burn, Witch, Burn is streaming via Amazon Prime, and it’s certainly a strong way to pass 90 minutes. If you’re looking for a quality extended episode of The Twilight Zone, this is certainly your answer. 

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