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  • Matthew Hopkins was a self proclaimed Witchfinder who started his career in 1644 in Essex, England. In a three year career he is estimated to have killed between 200 and 400 "witches". The Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm) is a movie based on his success as a prosecutor of witches.

    Witchfinder General is an interesting movie in that it is part horror, part melodrama, part historical epic. Vincent Price has one of his finest and most effective roles ever as Matthew Hopkins in this 1968 British Classic. The movie was renamed The Conqueror Worm for U.S. audiences to try and take advantage of Price's fame from Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe inspired series of movies. Except for reading part of the poem The Conqueror Worm during the ending credits, the movie has nothing to do with Poe.

    The basic story is common enough for this sub-genre of horror movies: There is an abusive official who accuses and prosecutes alleged witches for his own personal gain and personal power trips. There are two other fine British films from this time period that deal with the same subject matter, The Devils by Kurt Russell and Mark of the Devil starring Herbert Lom. All three are well made and effective, but Witchfinder General is the darkest of the bunch. The tortures are all brutal and unnerving to watch and there is a lot of screaming in this movie. Price plays Hopkins as overbearing and cold bloodedly cruel. He allows a woman to submit to him sexually to prevent someone from being killed, then tortures and murders the guy anyway, and then later has her tortured and murdered for being a witch. What a guy!

    The director of this movie was the young and upcoming Michael Reeves who unfortunately committed suicide in 1969, not long after this movie was released. There was a well known feud of sorts between Reeves and the star, Vincent Price. At one point Price is reputed to have said to the 25 year old director: "I have made over 70 films, what have you done?" with a reply from Reeves: "I have made three good ones". Perhaps the tension between director and star helped to make this the dark and humorless film that it is. Even 34 years after it's release, it still holds up as a beautifully made movie that hardly looks of feels dated at all. The period movies that Price was making with Roger Corman a few years before this film was made, while still excellent in many respects, are obviously a product of the 60's.

    Unfortunately this movie has not been released in the U.S. on dvd. There is a British release that includes a documentary on Michael Reeves, but for now in America all we have is the MGM midnight movie video release. This film also appears on AMC now and again, and in fact, I just watched it on that channel yesterday.
  • A powerful and unsettling film which is definitely not for the weak - kneed. Not easy to watch in some parts. But the mid-17th century was a turbulent time in British history with a civil war raging and the foul menace of devil worship festering throughout the countrysyde.

    All the players do a fine job. Although, Vincent Price is, of course, the stand-out performer. No other actor was able to portray genuine evil quite as effectively. There's no high camp fooling around in this one. What a brilliant talent he was.

    The music in this picture also deserves a special mention, particularly the opening theme which magnificently recreates an appropriate 17th century mood. Michael Reeves sheer production skill overcame the limitations of what was obviously a tight budget.

    I believe that the 1960s was the golden era of English cinema and television. Check the internet for extensive biographical information on the real Matthew Hopkins- WITCHFINDER.
  • I have a copy of Witchfinder General from many years ago. Recently, whilst re-organising my collection, I happened upon it and watched it once more. This film still manages to induce general feelings of horror on account of its violence, even though it is not really a 'horror' film as such. Watch it for its superb cinematography which lends it an appearance of freshness that belies its 35 years. It still looks as if it could have been made yesterday. Some of the more violent scenes will make you squirm. The cruelty of the period portrayed can only be imagined and the cheapness of life comes across as truly shocking. Vincent Price is excellent as Hopkins (though maybe a bit 'mature' to portray him, since he was witchfinding in his late twenties and died in his early thirties). To think that this evil man really existed and operated unchecked for several years leaves one cold. A minor masterpiece that all lovers of the macabre should enjoy.
  • Most folks have already enthusiastically praised "Witchfinder General" as a masterpiece, so I have little to add in agreement. It truly is a great film because it is about important ideas--a deep, dark, existential look into the worst of the human condition. John Coquillon's cinematography is about as good as it gets, and Michael Reeves's direction is superb. But what really sets this apart is Vincent Price's performance. It is easy to overplay villainy, lapsing into parody, but Price is so calm and unaffected here that he is the very essence of pure evil incarnate, an evil corruptly justified by misguided ideals. This is a powerful film, not only relevant as a historical depiction, but also as a morality play for events in the world today. It may be cliche to say, but you'll think about "Witchfinder General" for as long as you think about movies.
  • I had been wanting to see 'Witchfinder General' for years, and I must say it almost lives up to its reputation. The version I watched was the restored uncut one, and while I thought the film had one or two slight flaws (mainly with the script), it is very, very good. This was the third and final movie directed by Michael Reeves, who sadly died of a drug overdose a year after it was released while still in his mid twenties. 'Witchfinder General' certainly shows a lot of promise, and is very well made on what I imagine was a fairly modest budget. Many describe it as a horror movie, but I think thriller is a more apt term. While it has some brutal and violent moments, and it does concern witches, there is no supernatural theme. It is similar in many ways to the underrated 'Mark Of The Devil' and Jess Franco's disappointing 'The Bloody Judge', two movies released after this one, and undoubtedly influenced by it. Horror legend Vincent Price clashed with Reeves on set with the latter telling him not to ham it up. Price took offence at this but obviously heeded the advice, and his performance here is arguably the best of his career. Price is brilliant throughout, and the supporting cast are all pretty good, especially Reeves regular Ian Ogilvy, and Robert Russell as Price's surly assistant, and there's a good cameo from Patrick Wymark ('Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun') as Cromwell. 'Witchfinder General' is a very good film which deserves to be seen by a wider audience, and Michael Reeves death is a tragedy for all movie lovers.
  • lee_eisenberg25 October 2005
    Like "The Devils", "Witchfinder General" (also called "The Conqueror Worm") is likely to disturb a lot of people through it's portrayals of witch hunts. This one portrays England during its civil war in the 1640s. With the people paranoid enough to accept anyone, puritan Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) goes around coercing witchcraft confessions out of women, and summarily executing them in the most vicious ways possible.

    Things get ugly when Hopkins targets priest John Lowes (Rupert Davies). You see, Lowes' niece Sarah (Hilary Dwyer) is engaged to Cromwell soldier Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy). And Marshall may have a heart of gold, but he will go to any length to protect his beloved. And I mean ANY LENGTH.

    Vincent Price was always a trustworthy horror star, and this movie doesn't disappoint. It's certainly worth seeing, but you might want to avoid it if you have a weak stomach.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Witchfinder-General of the title is Matthew Hopkins, a real-life individual who, during the English Civil War of the 1640s, was responsible for around twenty people being hanged as witches. Most had been forced to confess under torture. Although Hopkins was not, as he claimed, officially appointed to that position by Parliament, it is no coincidence that his activities took place in East Anglia, the most firmly Parliamentarian area of England. It is one of the ironies of history that the supposedly modern, democratic Parliamentarians were more likely to have a superstitious belief in witchcraft than were the supposedly more reactionary Royalists.

    The film presents a fictionalised account of Hopkins's career, and takes some liberties with historical accuracy. The real Hopkins was only in his twenties at the time of these events, much younger than the middle-aged character portrayed by Vincent Price. He did not meet a violent end, but died of natural causes. His victims were all hanged; contrary to what is shown here death by burning was not used as a punishment for witchcraft in England. Apart from Hopkins the main character is Richard Marshall, an officer in Cromwell's army. He becomes involved when Hopkins arrests John Lowes, the vicar of Brandeston, Suffolk, and the uncle of Marshall's sweetheart Sara. Lowes is tortured to make him confess, but Hopkins promises to spare his life in exchange for sexual favours from Sara. Having obtained what he wants, Hopkins continues to torture Lowes and eventually has him executed. Marshall vows revenge on Hopkins and his sadistic assistant John Stearne. (Lowes and Stearne were both historical figures; Marshall and Sara are fictitious).

    When the film was released in America, it was renamed "The Conqueror Worm" after the poem by Edgar Allen Poe. Although it has very little to do with that poem, this was done in order to suggest a connection with Roger Corman's cycle of films based on Poe's works, most of which also starred Price. Although "Witchfinder-General" does not form part of that cycle, it does have something in common with Corman's last Poe film, "The Tomb of Ligeia". Both films were shot on location in East Anglia and both make effective contrast between gloomy indoor scenes and shots of verdant English countryside. In "Witchfinder-General" the indoor scenes have a chiaroscuro feel, with dramatic contrasts of light and shadow. The outdoor scenes were shot in autumn, and although beautiful the autumnal colours add to the film's melancholy air.

    There are also similarities with two films from the early seventies, Ken Russell's "The Devils" and Robin Hardy's "The Wicker Man". Russell is said to have disliked "Witchfinder-General", so there was presumably no conscious influence, but it is noteworthy that both films have a seventeenth-century setting, both were controversial because of graphic depictions of torture and execution and both are about the misuse of religion for political or personal ends. The real Hopkins may have been a fanatic who sincerely believed in the reality of witchcraft. The character portrayed by Price is a hypocrite who has taken up a career in witchfinding out of financial and sexual motives; he is well-paid for his services, and his position gives him numerous opportunities for blackmailing women.

    Many horror films (such as the majority of entries in the Hammer series) ask the viewer to accept that evil supernatural forces are real. "Witchfinder-General" and "The Wicker Man" have many differences (the latter, for instance, has a contemporary setting), but both reject this position. In Michael Reeves's film, as in Hardy's, what is to be feared is not the supernatural but superstition, not witches, ghosts or demons but irrational beliefs which lead people to commit violent acts. The two films have been bracketed together as "the only two intelligent British horror films"; they are certainly the two most prominent rationalist British horror films.

    "Witchfinder-General" was one of a number of British films from this period which could treat violent themes in a more explicit way, thanks to the gradual relaxation of censorship in the sixties, but this trend was not universally welcomed and the film aroused much controversy when it first came out. Some hailed it as a masterpiece which confirmed the promise Reeves had shown with his previous film, "The Sorcerers". Others, most notably Alan Bennett in "The Listener" ("the most persistently sadistic and morally rotten film I have seen"), condemned it for what they saw as excessive, even offensive, levels of violence. Today, we are more used to violence in the cinema than we were forty years ago, but some of the scenes depicted here still retain their power to shock. That, of course, was Reeves's intention- to shock us into thinking about the roots of violence. Bennett, who can at times be a perceptive writer, seems to have been particularly obtuse about this film. The events it depicts are sadistic and morally rotten. That does not mean that the film itself is.

    The film is today often claimed as a classic of the British cinema, although I often feel that this may have as much to do with the tragedy of Reeves's death from an overdose the following year as it does with its intrinsic merits. Much of the film's success is due to Vincent Price, and Reeves can take little credit for this. He wanted to cast Donald Pleasence as Hopkins, but was overruled by the film's American backers who wanted a more established star. Reeves and Price took a strong dislike to one another, and there are many stories about their clashes on set. Nevertheless, Price gives an excellent performance as a man who, like Hitler, is evil and yet nevertheless commanding, authoritative and charismatic. This film, despite its historic setting, can also be seen as a comment on the politics of the twentieth century, and still remains relevant in the twenty-first. 7/10
  • A stunning low budget film that seems to transend it's limited budget. For once, Price doesn't ham it up and Ogilvy gets to go deeper with his old Etonian dashing hero persona. There is genuine horror from the first scene of a woman being burned, Hopkins' sidekick performing emergency surgery on himself and the feeling of a people opressed and cornered on all sides by war and religious panic. A special mention must go to a man who I think is the most underrated cinematographer in the movies: John Coquillon, who makes the scenery haunting yet beautiful like a Constable painting.
  • England, 1645: in the midst of civil war, opportunistic witch-finder Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) and his sadistic assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell) travel from village to village forcing confessions from suspected witches for both profit and personal gratification. After the pair torture and execute priest John Lowes (Rupert Davies), taking advantage of his beautiful niece Sara (the lovely Hilary Dwyer) in the process, roundhead soldier Richard (Ian Ogilvy), Sara's fiancé, swears an oath of revenge.

    The last film from British horror director Michael Reeves, whose promising career was sadly cut short at the age of 25 by an accidental overdose, Witchfinder General is a brilliant account of the barbarous acts perpetrated against so-called witches during the 17th century, supposedly all in the name of God. Benefitting from Reeves' unflinching direction and a faultless performance by Price as a man who must surely qualify as one of cinema's most loathsome villains, the film is not only a thoroughly effective piece of sickeningly violent horror entertainment, but is also at turns a chilling lesson on one of the darkest periods in British history, a devastating indictment of human nature, a heart-warming love story, and a satisfyingly brutal revenge drama.
  • England, the 1600s. The country is torn apart by civil war, and bloodshed has become commonplace. Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) rides from village to village, torturing accused witches until they confess. In a medieval era of warring armies and naive peasants, Hopkins makes a lucrative living from others' misery. His judicial system is particularly gruesome: the accused are dropped in the river – if they drown, they are innocent; if they float, then they are witches and must be hanged. At first, it is difficult to accept that such barbarism could exist in human society, but even more frightening is the realisation that civilisation hasn't really progressed all that much since then: consider the African-American lynchings in the American South, which continued well into the 1960s. Michael Reeves' 'Witchfinder General (1968)' is a horror film of the highest order, stripped of titillating thrills and left to wallow in the vulgarity of human nature. For U.S. release, the film was retitled "The Conqueror Worm" to capitalise on Price's fruitful association with Roger Corman's Poe adaptations.

    'Witchfinder General (1968)' was gleefully advertised as "The Year's Most Violent Film!," and that doesn't seem far off the mark. However, despite depicting in gruelling detail the torture and execution of innocent victims, the film isn't exploitative – Reeves does not revel in bloodshed, as does the sadistic thug John Stearne (Robert Russell), but damningly condemns it. On its original release, many critics were disgusted with the film's content, much as they had been years earlier by Michael Powell's lurid psycho-thriller 'Peeping Tom (1960).' Fortunately, the film does boast the ever-reliable presence of horror maestro Vincent Price, who manages to keep the film feeling respectable. Proving his versatility as an actor, Price's performance is surprisingly understated; perhaps he felt that the subject matter was already macabre enough, without the need for his own unique vocal flourishes. Indeed, far from being frightening, Matthew Hopkins comes across as little more than a methodical businessman, his moral quandaries not necessarily absent, but merely set aside to make room for his wages.

    Perhaps the critics' rejection of 'Witchfinder General' has something to do with the accusatory manner in which Reeves frames the violence, capturing the executions, not from a moral high-horse, but as one of the curious spectators who circles around to gawk at the morbid spectacle of murder. Reeves focuses on the faces of the on-lookers, which boast an uncomfortable mingling of sadness and fascination. Matthew Hopkins is an opportunist making a living, but these are the people who allow, and even facilitate, the brutal torture of their neighbours. In this way, 'Witchfinder General' describes a crucial facet of human behaviour, how war and conflict can erode the morals of society. Hopkins' career as a witch-hunter thrived during the English Civil War (1641-1651), which saw the Parliamentarians and Royalists grapple for ruling power, and left citizens with tattered notions of moral rectitude. It's telling that, above all the scenes of bloodied violence, the film's most harrowing moment, for me, was when a villager witnesses a woman being raped, and simply turns his back.
  • With England in a civil war, Captain Richard Marshall is just one of many soldiers earning his money killing the Royalist rebels. Home from service briefly, Marshall stays with a priest and his wife-to-be Sarah Lowes but soon heads off. On his way out of the area he meets lawyer Matthew Hopkins, who has been called in by locals to help with some matters. Thinking nothing Marshall rides on having directed Hopkins correctly but only later he learns that Hopkins is more a witch-hunter than a lawyer and that the very "devil" that he has gone to town to unmask is none other than Lowes.

    Although I was familiar with the title I had neither heard anything good or bad about this film or ever managed to see it myself. With a recent screening on late night television in the UK I decided to give it a twirl and found much to like from the very opening credits where a hung woman gives way to a title credits sequence of wonderfully captured faces in various states of pain and/or terror. The imaginative air to these visuals continues even as the film settles down to deliver the story and the whole affair has a great colour and hue to it, using some visual effects to improve some shots. Reeves (who, at 23, probably never expected this to be his last film) uses the English countryside to great effect and summons up a great sense of period as well as contrasting it powerfully with the fear and violence of Hopkins' deeds.

    The plot threatens to be a poor device to show this history in gory detail but generally it works well enough because it makes the characters and the actions as important as the specific story involving Marshall. This moves along well but generally it is Hopkins and his quest that holds the interest because it is essentially evil and cruel – factors that the film brings out very well while observing the slight touch of glee from Hopkins that accompanies the cruel deaths. This is greatly helped by a superbly cruel turn from Price who dominates the film and makes his scenes the best. Ogilvy has a lesser role but is still very good despite not having the material given to Price. Support from Russell, Heath and others is mostly good apart from one or two bum notes in small areas – the victims are convincing which was important to make the horrors convincing.

    Overall an impacting little film that has a basic plot but greatly benefits from the cruelty of the piece, strong direction and good performances led by a great Price. Dated a touch but still quite shocking, interesting and worth seeing.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In the world of '60s British horror cinema, few films were as gritty, downbeat, disturbing or downright violent (not to mention mean-spirited) as this one. In fact, none were. WITCHFINDER GENERAL is a landmark in the history of cinema, and along with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, it helped to usher in the new wave of ultra-violent '70s gore films where a happy ending could no longer be guaranteed. It's a brilliant film but also a depressing one to watch; nobody will come out of this with smiles on their faces (unless they're sociopaths), instead a feeling of cold sickness (your mileage may vary) similar to the gut punch of THE EXORCIST. I love this movie because of the way it paints the English countryside; an idyllic and beautiful rural landscape, packed with lush foliage and picturesque villages, accompanied by the famously lyrical 'Greensleeves' type music. Yet into this Eden comes death; painful, protracted death. It's a film which focuses on death. Death by drowning, burning, hanging. and many other varieties.

    One of life's ironies is that director Michael Reeves himself died after the production of this, his last film. His career had been interesting but short-lived, but at least this and THE SORCERERS are worth seeing. Vincent Price dominates the cast as the cold-hearted Matthew, a man you hate yet also one of his more human portrayals of a monster; there's no over-acting here, just a realistic persona of a man without a conscience and out for his own ends. Supporting him are the gleefully sadistic John (believed to be a woman in historical stories) who enjoys 'pricking witches' and beats a fair number of people to watch. Hilary Dwyer is the damsel-in-distress who undergoes rape and torture and screams her head off; Ian Ogilvy is surprisingly deep as the Roundhead who finds himself pushed over the edge by the murderous antics. There's just enough time for Patrick Wymark to show a convincing cameo as Cromwell himself and Rupert Davies to undergo sadism as a priest accused of conspiring with devils.

    Comment has been made that the structure of this film is similar to the classic "revenge western", with Ogilvy riding through a rugged and wild landscape in search of his wife's abuser. That may be so, but the film is still unpredictable throughout, right down to the manic climax. It's an affecting piece of work that rewards close viewing and which still packs the same impact today as it did thirty years ago. Horror fans should buy immediately. Oh, and watch out for a cameo from Steptoe himself, Wilford Brambell!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In 1645, against a backdrop of bloody civil war, Matthew Hopkins is a self-appointed lawyer bringing trumped-up cases against those accused of witchcraft, and pocketing hefty commissions for his so-called work. Can anybody stop this cruel murderer hiding under the pretence of law ?

    Watching Witchfinder General is not a pleasant experience, but it is a very good film. As a straight depiction of the ignorance, brutality and debauchery of the late Middle Ages it is a powerful statement. As a bloody horror film it has dozens of scary and disturbing scenes. At the same time, it's strangely beautiful; Paul Ferris' lovely score counterpoints the horrible moments, and John Coquillon's exceptional photography recalls the period paintings of Rembrandt or Vermeer. Reeves eschews any comic moments or unrealistic moralising, focusing purely on trying to recreate the period accurately in his effective hybrid of revenger's tragedy and historical drama. Everyone is bad; the authorities are all corrupt, the common people are stupid sheep, women are chattels to be abused at will and merely staying alive is the only goal in life. Price is magnificently horrible and sinister in one of his most effective performances. Because of its tone and relentless violence, the film suffered greatly at the hands of the UK censor; had it been made just a few years later it would probably have survived better, although the TV print I just watched is a lovingly restored widescreen cut with all the vicious scenes tenderly spliced back in. The most astonishing thing about the movie however is that the talented Reeves was only twenty-four when he made it, an unheard of feat in the British film industry at the time. It was his third film (the other two are La Sorella Di Satana / The Sister Of Satan and The Sorcerers, both also starring Ogilvy) and tragically he died of a (probably accidental) barbiturate overdose in 1969. What could this great young filmmaker have achieved had he lived ? Based on a historical novel by Ronald Bassett (Hopkins and Stearne were both real people who wrote accounts of their work) and retitled The Conqueror Worm in the US (an odd reference to a poem which appears in Edgar Allan Poe's short story Ligeia) presumably to try and link it to the Corman/Price Poe series. A great first date movie, and good to watch as a double bill history lesson with The Elephant Man.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    It took me 35 years to track down a good print of this film. I saw it on the Friday night horror show when I was about 10 years old in the 70's and many of the scenes were so shocking that I was just about traumatized for life. After all this time, the movie still possesses the power to hold the viewer in a state of uncomfortable, almost nauseous horror.

    The horror is not just over individual instances of cruelty and bloodshed, but of the endless injustice and lust for violence that seems bred into the human race. This, I feel, is how young director Michael Reeves really saw the world...this is the despair that he felt, given life on the screen. Is it any wonder he overdosed on sleeping pills shortly after the movie's release?

    His death was certainly a tragedy, because "Conqueror Worm" is the work of a master director, whose control of image, dialog and nuance were clearly visible and just starting to come into bloom. Despite the total bleakness of the movie, there is still a beauty to it...the English countryside has rarely looked more appealing. In the midst of this pastoral vista unfolds a tale of hellish corruption and utter madness.

    The film grips you from the opening scene of a witch being hung. It is portrayed with no sentiment, no sign of Hollywood fiction...it is a scene of utter brutality. The screams of the condemned witch are chilling and perhaps it can be said that no movie revolves around the agonized screams and groans of people in torment more than "The Conqueror Worm". This stark, almost cinema verite portrayal of physical violence and evil gives the movie unbelievable power and force. When John Stearne(Robert Russell, terrific as a completely barbaric thug) thrusts needles into the backs of his victims, the camera neither shrinks back or zooms in on the wounds. When Stearne himself digs a musket ball from his arm with a knife, his own scream is one of the movie's most chilling.

    As Matthew Hopkins, Vincent Price is brilliantly cast. His sinister intellect and commanding presence shine through in every scene. Price knew when he could "camp up" a role...here he wisely decides to deliver a cold, measured performance. Hopkins is a reptile, a two-legged snake. He's one of those vile opportunists who takes advantage of ignorance and moral chaos to satisfy his own desires. His kind has plagued mankind since the beginning...and will continue to do so until the end of time.

    Where does the real horror come from in "The Conqueror Worm"? I believe it comes from the way that the best and most decent characters are destroyed by the evil roaming Reformation England. The kind Catholic priest John Lowes, the one true Christian character of the movie who detests violence and war, is tortured, humiliated and hung by the neck. The handsome and proud soldier Richard Marshall (very well played by Ian Ogilvy)is reduced to a raging maniac by the unchecked malevolence of everything he has seen. The final scene of the film is his wife Sarah's scream of complete despair. She screams not because of her own torture or the bloody carnage around her, but because she knows Richard is now a ruined man totally unlike the one she fell in love with. That is the real triumph of evil, even though Hopkins and Stearne lie dying on the dungeon floor.

    Is there any decency at all in the world of "The Conqueror Worm"? Not much, but Marshall's soldier friend Robert shows that he has not lost compassion. As Hopkins lies hacked to pieces and writhing on the floor, Robert deliver mercy to the Witchfinder by putting him out of his misery. Which only leads to more horror, as the crazed Marshall yells "You took him from me!"

    Don't look for humor, hope or relief here. This is the darkest of films, transcending the horror genre and yet encapsulating everything that makes it compelling at the same time. This is one of the strongest films that you will ever see.
  • I don't really understand the top reviewer's problem with 'Witchfinder General' is, it seems as though he's almost reviewing real life, as he alludes to Hopkins not meeting his fate as he does in this film.

    Well of course he doesn't - this is, after all, a motion picture, and people need to be entertained - not ruthlessly tortured as to how such an evil man basically got away with the deaths of what must surely be thousands of innocent English women, and probably countless American's too. How the man's demise occurs seems irrelevant really as we are treated to an exceptionally extreme portrayal of an individual gone absolutely insane with power; courtesy of horror legend Vincent Price.

    As has been mentioned, Price could be a worry for such a serious role, his usually tongue in cheek and knowingly camp performances were the things of legend in B-movies, yet here he takes on a persona which is absolutely bafflingly disturbing. The other actors simply hold on for dear life as Price literally bribes the stage, then has sex with it, before setting fire to it - absolutely stunningly powerful acting that I believe has rarely been bettered.

    In a way, his performance as Hopkins when compared with some of his other notable roles such as Henry Jarrod in House of Wax - the camp and stagey villain, mirrors the real life black and white psychology of man, here Price is in seriously disturbed mode, a foul villainous man who oozes menace, malice and distaste for the stupid mortals he often finds himself rubbing shoulders with.

    To say that 'Witchfinder' is a horror film in the conventional sense ('a scary or malevolent force that must be overcome') would be accurate, but it would be doing it a wild disservice: just as saying 'Don't Look Now' is a film about a child dying, that 'The Wickerman' is a film about crazy pagans, and so on: Witchfinder General is absolutely not a film about witches, nor is it really a film about witchtrials, descriptions like this undersell the film entirely. Witchfinder General is essentially a story that could be recreated anywhere, the trenches of World War One, in a Dynasty in China, even in the Wild West - it just so happens that the land of dark ages Britain lends itself perfectly to the influence and utter insanity of the witch- trials and the hysteria that surrounded them.

    Witchfinder General has been bundled in with other British horror films of the late 60's and early 70's for sheer convenience sake, films like 'Wickerman' (who it conveniently sits next to in my DVD collection!) and 'Blood On Satan's Claw', all being billed as similar films, yet in all honesty, those two pictures would not exist, let alone the serious British film industry as we today know it were it not for a film like 'Witchfinder General'. It completely threw open the doors for what horror could be (remember: up until the 70's it was a jumpy, if not forgettable and often quite silly fare - as in some of the excellent Hammer pictures) a shatteringly powerful psychological examination of the darkest recesses of the human psyche, and though the ending is predictable, deserved, and utterly justifiable, there is no doubt that my last point is proved sublimely by said provocative finale.

    See Witchfinder General now: see a (formerly) joke actor reinvent his career in a staggering fashion, see the most malevolent and evil human being ever committed to celluloid, see the insanity of five hundred years ago, or even just stay for the beautiful British country side, all the while beset by the disgusting characters who have soiled and destroyed it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    For those who have read my(admittedly drunk) review of 'The Dark Knight', it comes out fairly clearly that I take offense when people dismiss the cult-followings that occasionally build up among those who died young. Now, I generally agree that a person should not have his mediocre efforts automatically boosted to classic status because of his death, but it irks me when the deceased individual in question was one of true talent: James Dean, Heath Ledger, and many others. To that list, you can add Michael Reeves, a director who turned out quite possibly the best historical horror film ever made, and undeniably the best film to come from Hammer & Amicus wannabe Tigon studios. This is his masterpiece, and his final film.

    The film tells the story of Cromwellian soldier Richard Marshall(Ian Ogilvy), who finds an idyllic life awaiting him when he returns to his fiancée Sara(The absolutely gorgeous Hilary Dwyer)and her kindly priest uncle John Lowes(Rupert Davies, playing essentially the same role as he did in 'Dracula Has Risen from the Grave'). Unfortunately, ill winds bring bad tidings when insane Witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins(Vincent Price) and his sadistic sidekick ride into town when Richard marches off. Someone has accused Lowes of witchcraft, and it becomes clear that in spite of his false private attempts to appear staunch and undemanding of rewards that Hopkins is really a sadistic maniac who is merely doing what he does for profit and to coerce women to have sex with him in return for their freedom. After repeatedly having sex with an initially willing Sara, Hopkins has her uncle killed anyway and his assistant rapes her. When Richard finds out, he embarks on a quest for vengeance where he will stop at absolutely nothing, even if it means killing civilians and disobeying even the stern but kindly General Cromwell(Patrick Wymark).

    The acting is superb from all involved, and Reeve's inventive methods of cutting from scene to scene(Specifically a shot of the crashing waves which then switch to a roaring fire) are nothing short of remarkable. And despite these touches, the film is shot with a naturalistic feel instead of the hued, fairytale feel that Mario Bava, Freddie Francis and Terrence Fisher would probably have included, which makes the film feel all the more real and all the more emotionally affecting. It may take place in post-Medieval England, but this is no fairytale. The inversion of traditional religious imagery, such as when the falsely accused 'witches' are led to their doom on a road that from an aerial POV looks like a crucifix, is wonderfully subversive and ironic. Also remarkable is that when at the climax, when the supposed 'Men of the lord' are torturing Sara, it looks indistinguishable from a stereotypical Satanic sacrifice you'd see in a Chick tract.

    Still there are several flaws, the film's credits go out of their way to emphasize that the events and all characters are fictitious, yet, Matthew Hopkins & Oliver Cromwell really lived. The story in this film may be fiction, but Hopkins undeniably existed, and this is not a small gripe, for Hopkins is not a small supporting character like Liszt in the '43 'Phantom of the Opera', but the main villain.

    Also bizarre is how Reeves seems to go out of his way to make Richard's brutal vengeance on Hopkins with an ax out to be the most vile act in the film even though we have seen innocent old men & women slaughtered and women raped by the villains. I can understand wanting to emphasize that the pursuit of vengeance is not to be glamorized, but this(Along with Richard's attack on an Inkeeper) seem less to be a major theme, and more of a tacked on anti-military message that goes nowhere since the main theme is exposing the hypocrisy of religious nut-jobs like Hopkins, it also jibes poorly with multiple scenes where Hopkin's enemies shout that god will see he is punished. It may be comparatively well-woven into the plot than most tacked on liberal messages, but it's tacked on nonetheless. Hacking a man up with an ax may not be heroic behavior, but it still pales next to Hopkins's crimes and attempting to make his punishment look anything less than deserved just negates the entire message so far it lamentably causes me to take away one star when it could have been a 10. It's also unlikely that a priest who objects to a soldier simply doing his job would casually approve of pre-marital sex in this era, but maybe it was that attitude that got Lowes accused in the first place. The beginning is also laughably staged.

    Inspite of those flaws, Reeves crafted a masterpiece. His death was a true loss, in spite of his reputed on-set tyranny. Who knows? With such an attitude he could have become the Stanley Kubrick of the horror genre.

    Goodbye Reeves. Hopefully this film will inspire new generations to be wary of the current Matthew Hopkins(Fred Phelps, Michael Moore) this world has to offer. Beware! Wherever ignorance and closed-mindedness exists to be exploited, Hopkins still rides out there in the night, may we do our best to avoid him and his kind.~
  • Witchfinder General(1968) is an intellegent, thoughtful, human study of power in a powerless time. Intellectual horror that plays on the emotional intensity of its characters, and the brutality they are capable of achieving. Pinnalce of British horror, which behind The Wicker Man(1974) is one of the best British horror pics ever. With an evil villain in form of Matthew Hopkins who carries around a darkly intellectual karma amid towns of superstitious people. Effective in showing an aura of brutal evil brought on by designs for power, superstition, and civil war.

    Responsible in bringing forth a new subgenre, which dealt with the brutal violence, religious hypocrisies, and sexual debacheries of Middle age Europe, particularly the inquisition age. Witchfinder General(1968) deals with its inquisition subject in a forceful and psychological insightful manner. Later films of subgenre would rely heavily on human eroticism, and sadistic violence. The best of this subgenre besides Witchfinder General(1968) are Beatrice Cenci(1969), and The Bloody Judge(1969). The former shares a tragic quality with WG, while the latter is a portrait of intellectual evil.

    Rare occasion where Vincent Price plays someone in a film without any camp or humor value. All the more scary because of Price's ability to balance between dry charm and cold blooded ruthlessness. Nothing he does in Witchfinder General(1968) is darkly comical like roles for Abominable Dr.Phibes(1972), or Theatre of Blood(1967). Closer to his portrayal of Prince Prospero in Roger Corman's Masque of the Red Death(1964) who shares similar qualities with Matthew Hopkins. Results in Vincent Price's finest performance and maximizes his acting talent to highest level.

    Hopkins was the product of a system, where anything away from the norm political or religious wise were causes for condemnation as a witch. Powerful display on the chaotic effects war has on a country against itself. Director, Michael Reeves depicts a situation when justice and law are performed by those who prey on the weak and the powerless for personal gain. English Civil War lended to Hopkins having a type of power due to lack of a semblence of order. Interesting how horrible human acts are at their worst during times of chaos and war.

    Matthew Hopkins was not the only known witchfinder general of his time, but is one of the most infamous and notorious of the witchfinders in that era. Very little is known about his life except for his days as a witchfinder, which makes him into an enigmatic figure shrouded in mystery. Hopkins in his day was the equivalent of a bounty hunter in era of American Wild West. What I find fascinating about Hopkins are the different sources concerning his death with one implying by natural causes, and another by execution as a witch. Price plays Hopkins with a chilling and cold hearted demeanor that only he could pull off in convincing fashion.

    Judging by the effectiveness in film's direction and execution, Michael Reeves might have turned out to be one of British horror's best had he lived a little longer. He is the James Dean of film directors due to amount of excellence done in so little a time. Reeves shows his skills off in developing characters who are not plain good or evil but people who are capable of both. One style for whom Reeves is akin to is Lucio Fulci from his late 60s/early 70s period with similar themes of social consciousness. Scenes of horror are honestly and powerfully depicted by Reeves.

    The fabulous cinematography of this film must have made an impression on Sam Peckinpah when he hired John Coquillon to do the cinematography for Straw Dogs(1971). In fact, there are many moments, which I feel influenced the ideas on the primal side of human being for Straw Dogs(1971). One, some of the characterizations of the film's hero would creep up a little into the personality of Dustin Hoffman's math professor. Two, the brooding and fercious mood of the cinematography here is also apparent in Straw Dogs(1971). The cinematography of this film is one of many aspects that gives it a powerhouse emotion.

    Its American title is called Conqueror Worm even though it has nothing to do with the excellent Edgar Allen Poe poem. Donald Pleasence was the director's choice for Matthew Hopkins, but was declined by AIP in favor of the more marketable Vincent Price. Although Pleasence might have been good in the role, Price brings certain qualities as Matthew Hopkins that Pleasence might not have been able to give. The relationship between Price(actor) and Reeves(director) was one that was a love-hate one. Acting is very good with Price leading the way to give a brilliant performance.

    Film's erotic elements are a mixture of the implicit and slightly explicit. Story's revenge angle ends with some kind of consequence for the main chracters involved. Robert Russell does a good job in playing Hopkin's assistent as sleezy, and sadistic. The strong and dry acting of Vincent Price was inspired by his frustations with the director about his role. A non Corman AIP classic that is deserving of a Special Edition DVD release.

    The final scene packs a big punch with emotional and psychological intensity. Disturbing and mind shattering scene, which hasn't lost its ability to distress the psyche. The screams of Sara are enough to stay in one's memory following the sight of the last credit at the end of the film. Reminds me in a way of the final frame of Dario Argento's Tenebre(1982) where the main heroine is seen screaming against a backdrop of death and horror. A moment when none of the main characters come unscratched, and ends up with some psychological scar, which will affect for the rest of a lifetime.
  • I have only ever seen the cut version of this film,so i cant comment on it being gory or frightening.Its a very interesting story nonetheless and a very true one.No one actually knows what really happened to Matthew Hopkins,we would love to believe he was murdered as he really was such an evil man,he terrorised all of Essex and all of East Anglia.He just walked into villages and towns promising to rid them of their witches for large amounts of money,which he was paid.Money was his real motive.He also had some old hag as his helper,i cant remember her name,but she was just as evil.Between them they made trumped up charges against hundreds of people,men as well as women,although usually the old and vulnerable,any old woman who lived on her own and owned a black cat,would be a target.The worst place Matthew Hopkins left his legacy was in Manningtree a pretty little town,just outside of Colchester in Essex.Many locals claim Manningtree to be haunted by the spirits of his victims,they often hold ghost walks there, some even claim he is there in spirit.The witchfinder General has always been common folklore in East Anglia and Essex and i believe now hes known all over Britain,even though he never worked out of the South East of England.Because this is a true story you could never call this a horror film,it is more of a history film,but then i saw the cut version.Its a shame Britain doesn't still make films like this,instead of the countless nitty gritty depressing kitchen sink dramas,about prostitution and drugs and bad housing and abortions,and teenage pregnancies,i could go on but I'm already feeling depressed.
  • Without the use of monsters or other worldly apparitions Vincent Price in Witchfinder General created a fabulous portrayal with Matthew Hopkins. The demons that were within Hopkins are those we struggle with every day when others tell us how and what to think. And religious fundamentalism with the power of the state to enforce it is still a force to be reckoned with. Even here in the USA.

    The setting is Great Britain of the civil war era with Roundheads and Cavaliers battling for control. The Roundheads being Puritans were the ones doing the inquisiting there and Price is only a person too glad to offer his services.

    In fact in every society when one wants an orthodoxy enforced there are always people psychologically deranged enough for such work. Price works with a partner in Robert Russell who's a little bit more honest about the fact he's a sadist. He grates on Price a bit, but the two find a lot of mutual satisfaction.

    A lot of the same themes can be found in the Tyrone Power classic Captain From Castile only it's the Catholics enforcing their doctrine in that one.

    Here Price in his work debauches the girlfriend of Roundhead soldier Ian Ogilvy and when he finds out he becomes a man with a mission.

    Witchfinder General is a study in sadism and with an eternal message about the mind of humankind being unshackled. Delivered with a really special performance by Vincent Price.
  • It's impossible to comment on Michael Reeves movie WITCHFINDER GENERAL without mentioning the outright condemnation it received from critics on its initial release , or rather the condemnation of the " sickening and cruel violence " . Watching it today I'm slightly puzzled as to what peoples problems were at the time but then I thought about it . In 1968 no one had seen the gory video nasties from the 1980s and Vincent Price was best known for starring in rather camp horror B movies , so I guess you'd have to live in the context of 1968 to understand the controversy

    There's another thing and that is it's always billed as a "horror film" when broadcast on television but was WITCHFINDER GENERAL originally marketed as a horror film in 1968 ? Stylewise it is similar to a Hammer horror - The cast are composed of familiar television faces , there's day for night filming , the budget is rather similar to a Hammer movie at the time etc but is it meant to be a bio pic ? was it originally intended as a historical drama ? Unfortunately this where the movie fails because there's not much in the way of historical truth , Matthew Hopkins did indeed exist , he wasn't a mythical figure he was a cynical murdering mercenary who condemned people as witches in order to make a load of money but he didn't meet his fate as shown here . It's believed he emigrated to America when the resentment in England got too much for him and carried on torturing suspects

    There are a couple of good aspects to the movie . First of all Vincent Price gives what is regarded as his best performance and it is fairly impressive though he could have played the role in an even more cynical manner and parts of the script do pick up on the ridiculous trials of the time such as if a suspect is thrown into a river and drowns they're not a witch ! But even if you watch the restored version ( That's the version where the picture quality drops during violent scenes ) you still find yourself asking why it was so controversial in 1968
  • This film is often lumped in with the Edgar Allen Poe series that Vincent Price did in the 1960s. The story actually has little to do with Poe except for a bit of narration at the beginning and end (which I understand didn't exist in the original British version). Naming it "The Conqueror Worm" was also another play toward this being thought of as part of the series. If you would like to see Vincent Price NOT hamming it up for once, playing it pretty straight-forward in fact, this is worth watching. The role is based in a historical figure in Cromwell's Britain but considerable license is taken with the story. The story might leave you feeling a little strange, the ending is a downer even though "the good guys win". The fact that the Director died of a possible suicide/overdose soon after has certainly added to it's cult status. There are no "scares" in the movie to really qualify it as a Horror film, but I will recommend it as one based on subject matter and plain weirdness.
  • In the reign of Oliver Cromwell (circa 1647) a mad general roams the land looking for witches and "worshipers of the devil" in order to satisfy his personal blood lust. The country-living English natives seem putty in his hands.

    I first saw this film around twenty five years ago as part of a double bill. With what escapes my memory, but this isn't a film that can escape your memory easily. While clearly intended as a horror pic, this has plenty of historical accuracy: The hangings, the floggings, the ducking stool: A tool of "proof" that one was - or wasn't - a witch. If you didn't drown you were one and hung!

    (One of the great black jokes of late medieval English history, although please note that Hopkins didn't invent the device!)

    England was a land of superstition, fear and loathing at that time - indeed what we see here might well be the PG version of what went on for real. It might seem a flight of fancy, but you could show this film was part of an (adult) history lesson.

    Vincent Price has never had a better role than this. He is pure evil as Matthew Hopkins. Indeed here was a man that was probably as evil as any man that had lived up until that time: Imagine a man like Hannibal Lector given Parliamentary support!

    (Although this is a topic of debate - certainly he gained respect and privilege that suggests that he carried letters of authority. He also was careful not to step out of the South-East of England which also supports some kind of license.)

    While a lot of what goes on here is cod melodrama (woman in peril, etc.) there wasn't much else they could do with a subject like this. A really compelling drama that leaves you shattered at the end. A horror movie with a bit of real history thrown in!

    As a footnote, Samuel Butler even wrote a poem (below) which suggests that the peasants finally gave him a taste of his own medicine. This is almost certainly fancy although he died (from what we don't know) only two years after taking "office" so make your own mind up.

    Has not this present Parliament/ A Lieger to the Devil sent/ Fully imper'd to treat about/ Finding revolted witches out/ And has not he, within a year/ Hang'd threescore of 'em in one shire?/ Some only for not being drown'd/ And some for sitting above ground/ Whole days and nights, upon their breeches/ And feeling pain, were hang'd for witches/ And some for putting knavish tricks/ Upon green geese and turky-chicks/ And pigs, that suddenly deceast/ Of griefs unnat'ral, as he guest/ Who after prov'd himself a witch/ And made a rod for his own breech.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    With civil war raging across England, a man like Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) finds it easy to take advantage of the situation for his own personal gain. He plays on the fears, superstitions, and jealousies of the locals as they take turns accusing each other of being witches. And if they don't confess, Hopkins gives them to his sadistic enforcer, John Steame (Robert Russell), to beat it out of them. When Hopkins sets his sights on a priest named John Lowes (Rupert Davies) and his niece (Hilary Heath), he unwittingly seals his fate. The girl's fiancé, Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), will stop at nothing to get his revenge.

    Vincent Price gave many nice performances during his career, but his portrayal of Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General may have been his finest. Price's Hopkins is a very interesting, multi-layered character. While he has absolutely no qualms about unnecessarily punishing and torturing people, he doesn't do the dirty work himself. (I love the bit where he has the suspected witches thrown into the river with their hands and feet bound. If they float, it must be the devil protecting them. They will be taken from the water and burned. If they sink and die, oh well, sorry – they must have been innocent. It's certainly a callous view of life that was so wonderfully lampooned in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Hopkins doesn't care about rooting out evil. His objective is the silver he receives when it's all over. He is a cowardly man, selling out those closest to him to save his own skin. And he is quite at ease with granting favors and requests in exchange for sex. One has to wonder if Matthew Hopkins ever believed in God and Satan and witchcraft. Or, as I suspect, did he see it all as an opportunity to line his pockets. Price brings all this to the role. It's an outstanding performance of a multi-faceted character. As I said, it might just be Price's best.

    The supporting cast is just as good. Russell, Heath, Ogilvy, and Davis are all magnificent. I was especially impressed with Russell. It's easy to forget you're watching an actor and start to believe you're watching a man who enjoys torturing people. The beating he gives Davies is particular nasty. It would be difficult to play a sadistic bastard any better than Russell does in Witchfinder General.

    It's a real shame the Michael Reeves didn't live longer than he did. After watching Witchfinder General last night, I read the Reeves would have helmed The Oblong Box as his next project. Man, would that have been interesting! Reeves brought the necessary realism to Witchfinder General. His film has atmosphere and is rough and brutal. The locations are obviously authentic and the set are appropriately sparse. And the film has a gritty look appropriate for the time period. Slick looking digital effects like we see today just wouldn't work in a movie like this. It's obvious that he was working with a very small budget, yet I cannot imagine the film looking much better (well, the blood might not have been such a bright coral color) had he had three time the money.

    My only real complaint with the movie is with the main female character, Sarah Lowes. I realize that she faces unspeakable torture at the hands of Matthew Hopkins' cronies, but she bends to his will just a bit too easily. She seems more anxious than Hopkins to jump into the sack if it means saving her own skin. I would have liked to have seen her at least make an attempt to stay true to her fiancé. It just didn't fit what I would have expected from the character.

    Overall, Witchfinder General is a real classic of the horror genre. Any self-respecting fan owes it to himself to check it out. I'm so happy to finally have this on DVD. It's one I'll revisit time after time for years to come.
  • I just saw this movie on the big screen and was very disappointed. The movie is essentially about sadistic witch hunters in Britain during the chaos of its Civil War (Cromwell's time). I consider myself a fan of horror films, of British films and movies of this era, including ones with Vincent Price. After watching the movie, I was surprised to discover that it has been rated by some as one of the best British Horror films of all time. Perhaps, I was just expecting something very different given that it is also known as "Edgar Allen Poe's Conqueror Worm" (a Poe poem). The movie is not based on anything that Poe wrote, although parts of the poem are quoted in voice over at the beginning and end of the film. One could quote the poem to describe the film: "That motley drama--oh, be sure". I could not help feeling while watching the movie that it is closer to a mediocre western or army/war movie than a horror flick. It is violent -- with lots of sadism and poor quality fake blood, but it would have been more effective with less gore (perhaps the director's youth can be blamed for his not realizing that imagination of things not seen can be more horrible than showing acts of brutality? Less "shocking" perhaps, but more "horrible"?). That said, I did occasionally cringe at torture scenes. However, because there is very little real character development, I could not find myself really caring what happened to our hero and heroine or to any of the tortured victims of the Witchfinder General. I never felt surprise or suspense or fear or even concern during the movie. I even found myself occasionally bored and my mind wandered to the quality of the horse riding (which our hero seems to do well) and to the building material of the houses (nice scenery throughout) rather than to what the characters were doing. The bare breasted (and nude) women adorning certain scenes also did little for the plot development. I found the plot to be predictable, not something I expect in a "horror" film (which I don't think this really qualifies as). I do not think that this was one of Price's better performances. He appeared to maintain the same expression throughout the movie. Some of the minor characters were good, although some were a bit camp (especially an old horse seller and a fisherman). I don't know if they were meant to be funny, but I found them a hoot (as did the rest of the audience).

    Perhaps I am the wrong gender to enjoy this movie? All the women leaving the theater were saying how poor they thought the movie was (and laughing at themselves for having actually paid to see it), while the men seemed to have thought it was good and some men claimed that it was even great. On the positive side the film did stimulate a great deal of conversation among the theater patrons, although much of the discussion seemed to be directed at why it was bad or arguments as to its merits, none of which I bought.
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