Witchfinder General

Movie Review by EDF

Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Wilfrid Brambell, Hilary Dwyer

Director: Michael Reeves

Released on DVD with as much footage as could possibly be found, the controversial WITCHFINDER GENERAL might seem tame compared to other horror movies since 1968, but rightfully this is still a classic.

Set in England in 1645, a bloody civil war is tearing up the English countryside and with his army of Roundheads; Oliver Cromwell’s grip on power is tightening as he tries to defeat the few remaining Royalists who are still fleeing through the countryside. Law and order has collapsed. Capitalising on this is Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) a ruthless witch hunter who feeds off villagers’ superstitions that witches are living amongst them and follows up reports of anyone suspected to be in league with Lucifer. Aiding Hopkins is John Sterne (Robert Russell) and with the Magistrates’ blessing, both are rewarded for every witch killed.

Going back to the village where he was born, Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), who serves as a Roundhead, visits the local priest John Lowes (Rupert Davies) and his niece Sara (Hilary Dwyer). John Lowes senses that the villagers are treating him differently and asks Marshall to marry Sara to keep her from any harm. Marshall is delighted to have the priest’s blessing for Sara’s hand in marriage but all this will have to wait as he must join the troops the next day.

Leaving the village, Marshall comes across Hopkins who tells him what his occupation is and that he has business in the village. Hopkins visits John Lowes and brutally interrogates him. Upon finding out, Sara rushes to help her uncle but is stopped by Hopkins. Sara informs him that she is just a servant and hasn’t noticed any strange behaviour from the priest. Hopkins tells Sara that he will return later that night to question her even further, in her bedroom. During that encounter, Sara persuades Hopkins not to torture Lowes but to leave him in jail. Hopkins returns the following night but is followed by Sterne who brutally sees to Sara.

Hopkins dubiously beats a confession out of the priest and is then hung with one other villager. Paid by the Magistrates, Hopkins and Sterne leave the village. On hearing what happened, Marshall rushes back to Sara and swears revenge.

At the time that this was released, cuts were made to the movie for strong content and most of these have been put back in the movie and it shows. The reinstated scenes are of varying quality and while it’s interesting to view these scenes, especially the one involving the burning of a witch, you tend to wonder whether more could have been done in obtaining a better print. Don’t let this minor point stop you from purchasing this DVD. A top class movie that is more historical than horror, this feels more like a classic western than your standard costume drama.

6 out of 6 stars

SPECIAL FEATURES

This is a bit of a mixed bunch. As well as the standard movie trailer there is also a trailer for THE SORCERERS. Kim Newman’s production notes make an interesting read and so does the informative documentary entitled Blood Beast, a look at the work of director Michael Reeves who died shortly after the movie was released. The oddest item here has got to be a music video from the metal group Cathedral. Watch it if it’s only to catch the bored expression on the drummer’s face.

4 out of 6 stars

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