Though this film is far inferior to Vincent Price’s other witch opus, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, it still isn’t without its own charm. CRY OF THE BANSHEE’s biggest problem is that aside from a freaky howl ringing out occasionally to add tension, there really isn’t a banshee to speak of in this film. Sure CRY OF THE BANSHEE is filled with witches, voodoo, Satan worshipers, mad dogs, mad noblemen, and something that might possibly be a werewolf or a demon, but I honestly don’t think the word banshee is mentioned aside from the fantastically gothic animated title sequence (by Terry muther grabbin’ Gilliam!!!).
Price plays Lord Edward Whitman, a proud man obsessed with ridding his township of witches. CRY OF THE BANSHEE opens with a scene of a witch execution, as WITCHFINDER GENERAL does. But where WITCHFINDER GENERAL moves on to tell a fascinating story of a man and a woman torn apart by an egomaniacal madman, CRY OF THE BANSHEE tells a convoluted story of the destruction of a family by obsession. The main issue with CRY OF THE BANSHEE is that there really isn’t a person one can identify or root for. Price is the head of the family, but early on the viewer is privy to his obsession for killing witches. His actions cause his family to be cursed when he kills the children of a powerful witch named Oona. The witches aren’t ones to root for either, as Oona (played maniacally by Elizabeth Berger in a performance reminiscent of the old creepy lady in Raimi’s recent DRAG ME TO HELL) is pretty evil herself, killing off Whitman’s brood one by one and chanting about Satan whilst poking voodoo dolls with pins. Whitman’s family is not very likable either. Some terrorize the women of the town, forcing them to undress and if they don’t give into their advances they are accused of witchcraft. Others are such milksops that their inaction makes them equally dislikable. Sure some of them disapprove of Whitman’s obsession, but none take action against it. Without a real side to take, you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of wishing the entire cast would just take each other out and be done with it.
I hate to keep comparing this to WITCHFINDER GENERAL, but the fact that both star Vincent Price (who as usual brings it all to this performance, but there are moments where it doesn’t seem like even he knows how to react; the scene where he gets into a fight with his adoptive son and his co-star from WITCHFINDER Hillary Dwyer and then for some reason they all burst into laughter as if it were a blooper reel comes to mind) and both handle matters of witchcraft and persecution almost force me to lump the two together. CRY OF THE BANSHEE handles the matter of the witch hunts with a heavier hand and although WITCHFINDER GENERAL is a more brutal film in its content and storyline, CRY OF THE BANSHEE seems to be more in your face with the brutality with multiple rapes and torture of women on screen simply for the sake of showing a couple more boobies.
The one thing CRY OF THE BANSHEE has going for it is that it has one hell of an ending. It’s choreographed in an almost DePalma-esque meticulousness as events unfold into a truly horrific finale. Though far inferior to Price’s masterpiece WITCHFINDER GENERAL, the ending of CRY OF THE BANSHEE makes the film definitely worth a watch.