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08.16.2017
Witchfinder General (1968)
Movie Review by The Mortician
05.03.13

Witchfinder General (1968) (aka THE CONQUEROR WORM) If you've only seen Vincent Price in his "campy" horror movie parts, then you definitely need to see WITCHFINDER GENERAL. Here, Price is dead-serious, evil, mean, and downright despicable as a "self-proclaimed" Witchfinder in 1644 England. WITCHFINDER has that dark, evil, almost amoral tone of HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER some twenty years before that movie was unleashed. Like HENRY, WITCHFINDER is based on a true story and a real person, one Matthew Hopkins, who went around murdering over 300-plus alleged "witches" in small towns all across England---with the local law enforcement constables cooperating with him and in many cases, CALLING him to do this work! Hopkins sees himself as being "called by God" to do his work, all in the name of some kind of distorted Christianity. Basically, the individuals chosen to be hung or burned at the stake were at Hopkins' discretion---and usually recommended by corrupt town officials, who wanted to get rid of various townspeople (usually women deemed as being harlots or dabbling in the supernatural) for their own evil reasons. Hopkins has a flimsy "process" where he can tell if a person is a witch or not, and he always accepts payment for his work from the towns! So basically, you have the story of a warped religious serial killer going around, being paid by the police to snuff out people they don't like---and again, all this is based on true history, which makes the proceedings all the more dark and disturbing, the fact that people were this gullible, hateful, murderous, and corrupt! This is a hard movie to watch, it took me three sittings to get through it, but the story is pretty simple: during 1644 English strife (a civil war), Matthew Hopkins (Price) and his henchman John Stearne (a mirror for Henry and Otis from HENRY) tour the land and offer their services as judge, jury, and executioner of 'malicious witches' in small colonies. Hopkins is not past taking sexual favors from the women he is putting on trial, and if they agree to this, he'll announce them "clean, not witches" in many cases! (That's how sick this guy is!) When Hopkins hits a small town and persecutes a priest and his niece, he gains a savage enemy with the niece's fiancÚ, a military man named Richard Marshall. Marshall will stop at nothing to extract revenge on Hopkins and his disturbed aid. Price owns the role as Hopkins and plays the part dead-serious and hateful---trust me, you'll loathe him! The scenes where "witches" are hung and burned alive at the stake are horrifying and just downright tough to watch, nearly 5 decades after this movie was made! The director of WITCHFINDER was Michael Reeves, and young, on-the-rise artist who unfortunately committed suicide in 1969, not long after this movie was released. There was a documented war-of-words going on between Reeves and the star, Vincent Price. At one point Price is alleged to have said to the 25-year-old director: "I have made over 70 films, what have you done?" with a curt reply from Reeves: "I have made three good ones". Perhaps the animosity between star and director helped to make WITCHFINDER so bleak and uncompromising. WITCHFINDER still holds up as an incredibly dark drama with horrific overtones that give it a timeless, "you-are-there" feel, like perhaps it was filmed in 1644, right when all this went down. Worth viewing if you're a fan of evil characters on their dark journeys...

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