Appellate Judge Tom Becker came from Alabama with a Banshee on his knee and a song in his heart.
The last scream you hear will be your own.
Growing up Irish, I knew about the Banshee before I knew my alphabet.
According to legend, the Banshee was a spirit whose piercing scream foretold death—so if you were sick-a-bed and you heard an unearthly wail, you'd best have your affairs in order. For the nonafflicted, hearing the cry meant that the death of someone—either important to the community or close to them personally—was imminent.
As with many Irish families, I heard a number of variations of the legend and all sorts of tales of relatives, deceased and otherwise, who'd actually heard the Banshee wail, and even now, after a few drinks, I could quite convincingly tell you blarney of how I heard the cries myself.
None of this has much to do with the film Scream of the Banshee, which is unfortunate—not because my childhood recollections should be the basis of a SyFy original movie, but because a movie called Scream of the Banshee should at least have some relation to the Banshee legend other than just turning the Banshee proper into another ho-hum beastie.
Our story: Archeology Professor Dr. Whelan (get it? Like "Wailing?") and her team of students discover a mysterious 12th Century gauntlet and a mysterious 12th Century box. When Dr. Whelan puts the gauntlet on top of the box, the box opens up, revealing a skull—"Perhaps of a deformed person," Dr. Whelan notes of the ugly, giant-toothed fossil head. Dr. Whelan steps out to take a phone call, leaving her students alone with the skull. Suddenly, the skull's eyes open, and the blasted thing lets out a horrifying scream that causes everyone's ears to bleed. Then, POOF! The skull is gone, leaving behind the box, which is now in the shape of a sort of Celtic cross.
Strange things start happening to all who heard the terrible scream, starting with the security guard, Officer Sioux (get it? Like "Siouxsie and the Banshees?"), who not only bleeds all over his own hearing aid but is attacked and killed in the rest room by a terrible creature with ugly teeth.
The Banshee hits the usual cheesy horror movie marks: turning up in people's dreams, stalking the unsuspecting Whelan and her assistants, disguising itself as a foxy maiden to fool a horny college boy…you know the drill.
Why is this Banshee not just foretelling death—like all the other Banshees—but actually bringing about destruction? No reason, just seems to be a rogue Banshee. Of course, one of the students figures out a few things ("Don't scream! It wants you to scream!"), but anyone who's ever seen a low-rent horror movie or a SyFy original could have probably come to the same conclusions.
Basically, Director Steven C. Miller and Writer Anthony C. Ferrante have cherry-picked a few details of the Banshee legend and come up with a routine made-for-TV horror movie that could be about any creature.
Lauren Holly, who was famous in the '90s for her married-for-a-minute union with Jim Carrey, plays Dr. Whelan, whose first name is either Maura, Moira, or Isla, depending on whether you listen to her pronounce it, read the subtitles, or read the end credits. ("Moira Whelan"…"More Wailing!" Get it?) Holly gets to play tough, play scared, and play protector to her teen daughter and college-age assistants, and she carries this off with standard-issue TV-movie heroine aplomb.
Then there's Lance Henriksen (Aliens) in full-steam wacky mode as another archeologist named Duncan (get it? Like…well, like "Duncan"…there's also a medieval knight in a prologue who, I think, is named "Duncan"). Duncan's gone off his bean and now makes crazy commentary on the Internet, like a wi-fi Col. Kurtz. It was Henriksen/Duncan who'd originally discovered the Banshee Box and sent over to the university, according to his brittle former assistant, Page (get it? Like a "Page" who's an assistant to a Knight?).
Anyway, Duncan is somehow the linchpin here, and the whole mess ends up with a showdown at his creepy estate, which features gun battles, mannequins half-buried on the grounds, and a particularly aggressive Banshee, who at one point actually calls Duncan on his cell phone to scream at him. Seriously. Naturally, this is followed by a big Banshee showdown of massive silliness and an anti-climactic ending that actually leaves the door open to a sequel.
Inexplicably, Scream of the Banshee has an R rating. I say "inexplicably" because there's minimal gore, zero nudity, and the only profanity is when Dr. Whelan calls the Banshee a bitch. Also, as a SyFy original, it premiered on a basic cable channel—the kind that isn't allowed to show R-rated content. Does this mean people under 17 needed to get an adult to watch it with them?
Scream of the Banshee is a co-production between SyFy and Lionsgate's After Dark Originals line. The tech is perfectly adequate, and the disc features a commentary with Miller and Composer Ryan Dodson.
Unlike some scary mythical (or not) creatures, the Banshee is reactive rather than proactive, making her a less-than optimal choice for a horror-movie heavy. Besides distorting the legend, Scream of the Banshee brings nothing new to the table besides a heftier-than-usual dose of silly.
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