Night of the Eagle (1962)

Beware the stone eagle!
Beware the stone eagle!

Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde), a college psychology professor who lectures about choosing reason over superstition, must finally accept that witchcraft does exist when his life goes off the rails after he forces his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) to destroy the good luck charms (a dead spider, animal skull, graveyard earth, etc) she has used to protect him from a college rival who is using conjure magic against him.

poster
UK poster

NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (aka BURN, WITCH, BURN! in the US) was directed by Sidney Hayers, with a script by Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson and George Baxt, based on Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife. The novel’s New England setting was moved to rural Britain.

Witchcraft in suburbia
Witchcraft in suburbia

I really like this film, which is subtly handled and well shot. It’s a kind of companion piece to NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957), in that both feature clear-headed protagonists who must concede that dark forces exist.

Norman finally believes!
Norman finally believes!

A nice touch involves the use of a reel-to-reel tape to attack Norman: this is done by sneakily adding the recording of a black magic ceremony onto what was meant to be a speech on neurosis. As the tape plays, it summons some unseen thing that shrieks outside Norman and Tansy’s front door.

We later see what this shrieking thing is when the same tape is played through the college loudspeaker system, causing a stone statue to become a huge live eagle that chases Normal around the grounds and halls of the college in the night. Once the tape is switched off the giant eagle disappears, and is seemingly just an illusion, but the film ends with the heavy eagle statue toppling from above the main door to crush the evildoer.
The director’s decision to repeatedly include the stone eagle statue in various shots as the story progressed to this finale was a good call.

The stone eagle
The stone eagle
The statue becomes a real eagle
The statue becomes a real eagle
The giant eagle swoops down!
The giant eagle swoops down!

With good use of close-ups and editing, this B&W tale of witchcraft in middle-class suburbia, with university wives using hexes and effigies, deserves to be as well known as NIGHT OF THE DEMON in my opinion.

The conjure wife is hypnotised to kill!
Compelled to kill!
US poster
In the US theatre audiences were given a special pack of salt and words to an ancient incantation
The stone eagle looms in the foreground
The stone eagle looms in the foreground

Oh yes, Reginald Beckwith, who plays a college colleague in NIGHT OF THE EAGLE, was also featured in NIGHT OF THE DEMON, as Mr. Meek in the seance scene.

Reginald Beckwith, standing in the doorway, appears in both EAGLE and DEMON!
Reginald Beckwith, standing in the doorway, appears in both EAGLE and DEMON!

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