Set in the mid 1600's during the
English Civil War between the forces of Oliver Crowell and King Charles, the "Witchfinder
General", which is loosely based on real characters and events, stars Vincent
Price as Mathew Hopkins, the films titular villain.
Travelling the Eastern counties of
England, Hopkins earns his living offering his services as a witch hunter to gullible townsfolk.
Which usually involves torturing some unfortunate people to near death, who were
usually guilty of nothing more than looking at some superstitious peasant
sideways, to get them to confess to witchcraft.
When a young Roundhead cavalryman,
Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), finds that Hopkins and his assistant Stearne
(Robert Russel) had raped his wife Sarah (Hilary Dwyer) and executed her father,
the local priest, for witchcraft whilst in his home village, he defies orders
and sets after them with a small group of soldiers, on a personal quest for
But with Hopkins well liked by the
towns Magistrates, who believe him to be doing the Lord's work, bringing him
down will be no easy task.
Featuring various good olde
fashioned methods of torture and execution, including people being ducked,
branded, beaten, stuck with needles and burned alive at the stake (sounds like a
fun way to earn a living), the film was considered extremely shocking for its
day, which resulted in some of the more notorious scenes being trimmed
from the original UK release by the film censors.
If your a fan of the Hammer or
Amicus style of horror films, you should really enjoy this. Vincent Price is
excellent as the fiendish Witchfinder, though those who are old enough to
remember the old TV series "Return of the Saint" may be surprised to see its
lead actor Ian Ogilvy appearing in a horror film. Look out for "Steptoe and Son"
actor Wilfred Bramble, who has a brief role as a peasant, providing one of the
films more memorable lines "Oh, your a witchfinder? That's nice"
Overall Marks : 7/10.
Alternate tag lines
"There's a lot of screaming when there's this much at stake", "Leave
the children at home, if you are squeamish, stay with them", "The
years most violent film [UK theatrical]".
historians, though the real Mathew Hopkins claimed to hold the
office of Witchfinder General, there is no proof that this title was
actually bestowed upon him by parliament or sanctioned by any
official source. What few records there are seem to indicate his
motivations for witch-hunting were more financially,
than religiously, motivated, even though it is believed he was the
son of a clergyman. His witch-hunting trials, which he carried out
around most of East Anglia, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, started in
1645, but came to an abrupt end in 1647 when he died in his home
town of Manningtree Essex.
The original UK
theatrical release was cut by the BBFC by about 1m 26s. These
shortened most of the torture scenes and the end fight. This same cut
version was released onto UK video in the 80's. Redemption films
released an uncut restored version in 1995, but the restored scenes
were of inferior quality as they were taken from a US laserdisc.
theatrical release of the film used some alternate shots during the
Tavern scene, in which the young girls in it were exposing their
breasts. These were included on the old Prism/Metrodome DVDs as
extras, and can also be found as extras on the UK Blu-Ray by Odeon.
The films composer
Paul Ferris had a small role in the film as one of the villagers. However he appeared under the pseudoname Morris Jar,
which was a jokey nod to the French composer Maurice Jarre.
Michael Reeves wanted Donald Pleasance to play the lead role, but
the American co-financers AIP insisted he use Vincent Price.
Though set in 17th
century, if you look closely you'll notice plastic gutterings and TV
aerials on the background buildings in some shots.
Price was not initially struck on Michael Reeves directing style.
Taking exception to being told by a young director in his early 20s
about him "over acting" he asked "Young man, I have been in over 80
films, how many have you made?". Fortunately, Reeves won Price over
with his reply which was simply "2 good ones", which caused much
amusement on set.
The film has the
standard disclaimer at the end saying the story and characters are
entirely fictional, yet the film is based around actual events, and
Mathew Hopkins was a real character. As was Oliver Cromwell, who
appears in the film as played by Patrick Wymark.
The original US
theatrical version was retitled "The Conqueror Worm" and included a
poem from Edgar Allen Poe at the end of the movie. This version was
uncut but used the "clothed" sequence from the Tavern scene.
Subsequent US videos and the original DVD by MGM under this title
also replaced the original soundtrack with an alternate score by
Kendal Scmidt due to problems licensing the soundtrack. The current
US DVD by MGM under the original title Witchfinder General is of the
original uncut version, without the Edgar Allen Poe narratives and
restores the original soundtrack.