Peter Wyngarde plays a Norman Taylor, teacher of psychology, who believes (to the point of being a dick about it) that anything supernatural like religion or witchcraft, is nonsense and people who believe in it suffer from a superstitious disposition, to put it mildly. A kind of camp Richard Dawkins. Throughout the film he encounters various forms of witchcraft while his ‘faith’ is tested. Sound familiar?
Its almost impossible to escape comparisons with the earlier and arguably more famous Anglo/American production, Night Of The Demon (1957). The story is where most comparisons should stop though as Night Of The Eagle is a different cauldron of fish.
The theme, although still based on a curse, is handled in a much more naturalistic manner, it’s still a low budget chiller complete with thunder and lightning but the witchcraft element is more subtle, more believable. Night Of The Eagle’s quieter witchcraft draws comparisons with everyday religious rites and good luck charms rather than conspiring covens. Night Of The Eagle is also not an effects movie. There are no monsters (sorry). In their place are ‘issues’.
Poor staunch Norman lays into his wife Tansy’s well-meaning experiments with witchcraft out of professional impotence, despite his intelligence and status he is unable to resolve his own martial problems. Tansy is bored playing housewife and Norman has thoughts of infidelity, nicely presented in the form of a younger version of his wife, a student who is dangerously infatuated with him.
Night Of The Eagle suggests that people are the problem here not witchcraft, the effects of which are never fully confirmed as the cause of any of the ‘events’ either. There’s always room for coincidence or the oft discussed hypnotism / suggestion as a more comfortable answer, something Night Of The Demon demon tries for but loses with it’s ‘demon-muppet’ special effects.
Despite only 5 years between Night Of The Eagle and Night Of The Demon, and despite both having contemporary settings, Night Of The Eagle feels the more modern and multilayered film. Night Of The Eagle uses the supernatural as a subtext for modern day anxieties whereas Night Of The Demon is simply a ghost story. Perhaps this is a result of the film’s source materials or a deliberate approach by the directors?
Either way Night Of The Eagle is the better film if not the better remembered. Night Of The Eagle has a great cast; Peter Wyngarde, fresh from his role as Quint in The Innocents (1961), plays Norman as strong and pig-headed (you’ll still root for him by the end though) and American Janet Blair comes across as genuine in the role of Norman’s wife, Tansy, the misguided neurotic who would give up her life for her husband.
There are some nice visual touches, such as the blurred POV shots of Tansy conscious but in a trance, found within the solid black and white photography but unfortunately only a straightforward orchestral score to accompany them. It does however boast a script co-written by Richard (Legend Of Hell House) Matheson.
The story unfolds in a predictable way but even though its revelations are obvious the story is still as compelling as its final (title referencing) sequence.
Night Of The Eagle is an under-rated British gem.
Review by Anthony Gates
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