Monday, July 8, 2013
Witchfinder General (1968)
Directed by: Michael Reeves
Written by: Michael Reeves and Tom Baker; based on a novel by Louis M.Hayward
Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Heath
Witchfinder General (aka The Conqueror Worm because American distributors wanted to cash off Roger Corman`s Edgar Allan Poe series) is not only one of my favorite Vincent Price films but one of my all time favorite movies ever made. I`ve seen this movie a good number of times and its truthfully never lost its touch on me and ever time i`ve shown this film to someone despite what skepticism they might have no one i`ve ever shown it to has been disappointing. Now its considered a horror film but to be honest its more of a historical piece because its based on a true story in history and this guy Matthew Hopkins was a real person who really did the kind of horrible things he does in this movie.
This film is set in England during its civil war were it was the Royalists vs the Parliamentary party both fighting each other over control. Its thanks to this conflict that's ongoing people like Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) are able to go village to village exploiting fears and superstitions by offering his services as a "Witchhunter"and than killing who ever he pleases and sees fit to bill as a witch, and than walking away with a profit. All this works splendidly for Hopkins until he targets the wife of the young soldier Richard Marshall who despite risking treason for desertion from the army pursues Hopkins with only the thought of making him die painfully.
Vincent Price is at his best in this movie. In most of Vincent Prices horror movies he incorporates a certain level of charm to his villains that make them sympathetic like in House on Haunted Hill and House of Wax, but not here. In Witchfinder General he is pure evil in his portrayal of Matthew Hopkins. One other thing that's really interesting on Prices part is he plays the role in a way that you feel like the character Matthew Hopkins is so consumed in greed, lust, and hate that he cant feel sympathy and lacks the emotion that a normal human would have. And Price translates this to the screen marvelously in his performance. Now one person in particular that i`d also like to mention is the actor Robert Russell who plays Matthew Hopkins accomplice John Sterne. In all the reviews of read on this movie no one seems to mention him, so naturally I feel obligated to mention him and point out what a perfect person he was to play that role. John Sterne is a greasy mean little man who delights in torturing and inflicting pain onto people, and Russell just does it too well. You might just have to see it to understand.
Sadly though this was to be director Michael Reeves last film, as he died at the age of 25
of alcohol and barbiturate overdose after this movie came out. Anyways his direction in this movie is nothing short of incredible. For one he really does a good job at completely immersing the movie into a deep period setting, making the film really look and feels like the sixteenth century. Furthermore he makes the movie quite gory especially for the 60`s and obviously because its so bloody the censor boards and critics at the time completely balked at the film over that.
Overall I obviously love this movie and would recommend it to everyone ( in fact I like this movie so much I have a painting of the Vincent Price character Matthew Hopkins by artist LJ Dopp above my bookshelf in my bedroom), but I don't love the movie for the sole fact that it has my favorite actor Vincent Price in it or that its based on a subject matter that's very interesting to me. But because its honestly a incredible piece of work, and everyone whose a fan of not only cult cinema but of film in general should have to watch and experience Witchfinder General.