Witchfinder General (1968)
Made in 1968 this is a hard movie to categorise. It stars Vincent Price which immediately suggest horror film. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is a complete horror but theres more to it than that. It reflects a truly awful time in history and is centred around the English Civil War of the 16th century, but particularly concentrates on the witch hunts, alot of which took place in East Anglia.
The main characters are Mathew Hopkins played by the ever brilliant Vincent Price, a witchfinder, made all the more chilling by the fact he actually existed, his assistant in all things torture related, John Stearne, Richard Marshall played by future Simon Templar Ian Ogilvy, his fiancee Sarah nicely played by the beatiful Hilary Dwyer and her father, a priest played by Rupert Graves.
Hopkins and Stearne are truly nasty peices of work. They basically roam the country, in search of usually innocent women, accused of witchcraft, in a very superstition orientated England. It didn’t take much in those days to be accused of being in league with the devil, and heaven help them if they were. Safe to say they weren’t in for a very nice time.
Richard and Sarah get caught up in all this mayhem mainly because her father, the priest, is accused of witchcraft, and along with several women, tortured and eventually hanged.
It’s a truly grim tale, and the unpleasantness doesn’t let up for a minute, violence, rape, torture, we run the full gauntlet of general nastiness.
It’s graphic. It’s incredibly hard to watch in some parts. The torture of the priest, in order to extract a confession, is particularly awful, as is the branding of Sarah towards the end. I also still have trouble watching John Stearne having his eye kicked out just before Hopkins is axed to death in one of the most shocking endings iv’e ever seen in any film.
But i have to say, that even though it doesn’t shy away from showing us all how truly terrible things were, in amongst all this chaos, the English countryside has never looked so stunning. Couple that with a gorgeous soundtrack that has one of the most beautiful and serene themes ever commited to film and you have a piece of cinema which is both terrifying and lovely to look at.
I’ve seen this film many times and it’s one of my all time favourites. It’s played brilliantly and is filmed with a real eye for detail, much to the director, Michael Reeves, credit. Reeves only made a small handful of movies before he died tragically young. This is considered by most to be his masterpiece, and watching it you have to wonder, if he’d lived, what would have come next.