An ongoing series looking at fantastic prologues from classic and contemporary horror movies.
Though we think of Terry Gilliam today primarily as the visionary director behind such celebrated, opulent and arch cinematic confections as BRAZIL, TIME BANDITS, THE FISHER KING, 12 MONKEYS, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS and so many more great pictures. But there may be a smattering of you that are unaware of Gilliam’s history as an equally innovative animator.
The American born Gilliam moved to England in the late 1960’s an made a name for himself in print and eventually serving as an animator on a children’s program. Here, he met comedians Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle, three members of the troupe that would soon be a household name in England and eventually, the world: Monty Python.
When Monty Python sculpted their now legendary TV program MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS in 1969, Gilliam was brought in to provide his unique absurdist designs for the opening and segment bridging animations.
Eventually, he was brought in as a full member.
But before he got too deep into the Python-verse, one of Gilliam’s coolest sidebar gigs was to design the opening credits for director Gordon (THE OBLONG BOX, KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK) Hessler’s AIP exploitation picture CRY OF THE BANSHEE.
Released in 1970, CRY OF THE BANSHEE stars Vincent Price as Lord Edward Whitman, a morally questionable perversion of his Matthew Hopkins character in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, whose family falls under a curse blasted out by a coven of otherwise peaceful witches whom Whitman has gravely wronged.
It’s a strange movie without a clear narrative arc, but it’s plenty fun, beautifully production designed and Price is fantastic, as is his beautiful WITCHFINDER GENERAL co-star Hilary Dwyer.
It’s also a very sexually volatile movie, one that AIP cut upon its release, obliterating the nastiness that is essential in making us despise Price and his cretinous sons even more.
Also crudely removed from the theatrical print was the dynamic opening title sequence, one designed by Gilliam and a prime example of his trademark cut and paste, paper-doll-like, moving phantasmagorias.
Clipping this brilliant beginning, AIP opted to instead start the picture with a spoiler sequence from the center of the film where the shape-shifting Roderick (Patrick Mower) appears at witch Oona’s command. This is followed by a still frame title sequence that is a shrug compared to Gilliam’s mastery. The original score by Wilfred Josephs was also replaced with an admittedly just as evocative soundtrack by AIP regular Les Baxter.
When CRY OF THE BANSHEE made its way to DVD it was the original cut that surfaced, giving fans the chance to appreciate Hessler’s picture the way in which it was intended to be seen.
And Gilliam’s animations were also intact.
Here then, one of the most interesting and effective openings in horror, is Terry Gilliam’s work in CRY OF THE BANSHEE.