Combustible Celluloid
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With: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon, Kathleen Byron, Reginald Beckwith, Jessica Dunning, Norman Bird, Judith Stott, Bill Mitchell
Written by: Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, based on a novel by Fritz Leiber
Directed by: Sidney Hayers
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 90
Date: 04/25/1962

Burn Witch Burn (1962)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Speak and Spell

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on Fritz Leiber's 1943 beloved-by-horror-fans novel Conjure Wife, Sidney Hayers' Burn Witch Burn is a surprisingly well-made, black-and-white chiller despite its "B" movie origins. Two Twilight Zone writers, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, adapted the screenplay, telling the story of Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde), a college professor who teaches his students that the supernatural does not exist. He's very successful, everyone adores him, and he's up for a promotion. At home, he discovers that his wife Tansy (Janet Blair) has hidden weird little talismans all over the house, spiders, shells, dolls, etc. He makes her burn everything, but then his luck takes a serious turn for the worse. Tansy also disappears, sending Norman on a frantic chase. The rich cinematography starts off on a rather normal, domestic note, but lets weird little things creep in, especially stone birds, leering from odd angles. (A nice touch has Norman backing into his classroom blackboard and accidentally erasing a crucial word from a sentence written there.) The sound design is also creepily effective. The wonderful Kathleen Byron (Black Narcissus) plays another teacher with secrets of her own. Voice actor Paul Frees provides a spoken introduction protecting the audience from the witchcraft to follow. Kino Lorber released it on Blu-ray in 2015. There's a 25-minute, sit-down interview with Wyngarde, a trailer, and a slow-burning commentary track with the late, great Matheson, who is one of my all-time favorite writers.

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