Fritz Leiber Jr. was a talented fantasy, science fiction and horror writer who is mainly remembered for the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books, which surprisingly have never been adapted for the cinema. In contrast, Leiber’s Conjure Wife has served as the basis of multiple movies, including the fine 1962 film Night of the Eagle (later re-titled Burn Witch Burn).
Peter Wyngarde stars as a hard-headed college professor who thinks that the supernatural is bunk. Imagine his surprise when he discovers that his wife (Janet Blair) has been a practicing witch for years, and claims that her magic has been advancing his career and protecting the couple’s well-being! He makes her promise to abandon her childish hobby, and almost immediately regrets it when a series of horrifying happenings befall the two of them. Could witchcraft be real, and is another witch in the college community out to get them?
The script is by two masters of economical, intelligent, unpretentious horror: Richard Matheson (who also wrote my recommended film Amelia) and Charles Beaumont (who also penned my recommendations The Intruder and Masque of the Red Death). They pace the plot and the scares professionally, and slyly weave a feminist subtext into the proceedings.
I have to admit that I can’t name another movie of director Sidney Hayers, but his low profile wasn’t due to lack of talent. He keeps things suspenseful and crisp, gets solid performances from all the actors and brings in the good-for-the-time special effects at just the right moments. The pleasing result recalls Roger Corman’s many solid low budget horror films, such as those he adapted from Edgar Allen Poe stories (including my recommended film Tales of Terror). Not surprisingly, Night of the Eagle was released by Anglo-Amalgamated, the British partner of Corman’s company AIP.
This suspenseful sleeper is available to watch for free at the Internet Archive, just click here. As a taster, I embed the trailer below.
p.s. This film would make a fine double feature with an ever better film based on the same themes: Curse of the Demon. My recommendation of that film is here.