It is the sixteenth century and Lord Edward Whitman (Vincent Price) is the magistrate who rules over this part of England with an iron fist, especially when it comes to dealing with witchcraft. He, as in accordance with the law of the land, has no tolerance for the pagan arts and when he or his men find a woman who has been indulging in those arts, he visits a terrible wrath upon them, torturing or even killing them, all to his satisfaction before God and his own personal sadistic streak. Today he has overseen the sentencing of one of those witches, and after she is branded with the mark of the heretic, he sees to it that she is paraded and whipped through the streets, then placed in the stocks as punishment - she is lucky to escape with her life. Can no one stand up to this tyranny?
Around 1970, the cusp of the sixties into the following decade, there was a rash of British horror movies which took it upon themselves to bring the possibilities of witchcraft, even devil worship, among the young to the fore, and so it was famed cult titles such as Witchfinder General (which also starred Price and Hilary Dwyer, who was in this too) and Blood on Satan's Claw picked up an audience lasting long past what many involved would have ever envisaged as their shelf life as cultural artefacts. Cry of the Banshee was one of those in that brief craze, and one of the least-loved at the time, regarded as a throwaway chiller that once again gave Price his opportunity to do what had become an overfamiliar turn.
But the seventies were pretty good for the star, mainly because he turned his back on the historical shockers and concentrated on more contemporary fare, meaning this example of the former languished to show up on occasional late night television showings, often in its edited for violence form. It was served better by a DVD release in the early twenty-first century, and as a result rediscovered by those who appreciated its feel for the hostile atmosphere of the period it depicted, where if you were not aligning yourself with the right authority figures, by choice or unintentionally, you would find yourself scapegoated or worse as an enemy of the state or against the Lord Almighty, neither of which were given the time of day by those who could see you punished.
It didn't matter if you were innocent or not, the mere claim to pursuing a different path through life away from the hypocrisy of society's most pointlessly restrictive rules, be that loving who you wanted or not made to go to war, would see you at loggerheads or worse with the powers that be. You can see why these movies had a brief vogue, can't you? That’s right, the young folks we saw here were the stand-ins for the flower children, the hippies who had shaken up Western society with their talk of peace and love, and for some reason exploitation filmmakers targeted that audience by making biker movies or witchcraft efforts (sometimes at once: see Psychomania). Although the banshee of the title referred to an occasionally heard howl and no glimpse of an Irish folk legend or its trappings, this was in touch with the mysteries of the natural world.
At least glancingly, for it was evidently more interested in ripping the clothes off various nubile actresses in scenes that amounted to torture for their characters, but director Gordon Hessler kept the action ticking over with some enthusiasm, if a slight lack of coherence as to what was actually going on. You did get the overall idea: there's a monster abroad in the land which has been spawned by the much-persecuted witches (led by Oona - Elizabeth Bergner, somewhat overage for a hippy), and it is wreaking havoc on the bad guys led by Price, who put in a measure of conviction to what had become very rote for him, professional that he was. The identity of said monster (sort of a werewolf) was supposed to be a surprise, even though there was only one character they could be, but there was an engaging cast filling out the movie, from Hugh Griffith as a gravedigger to sexploitation star Essy Persson and Patrick Mower, here employed for his rather brutal good looks more than his acting ability; Sally Geeson showed up for a scene too. It wasn't a forgotten classic by any means, yet viewed in the context of its time it deserved another look in its uncut form. Music by Wilfred Josephs (or Les Baxter in A.I.P.'s U.S. release).