Synopsis – A young soldier seeks to put an end to the evils caused by a vicious witch-hunter when the latter terrorizes his fiancée and kills her uncle – Witchfinder General
Director – Michael Reeves
Released – 1968
For fans of – The Wicker Man, A Field in England, The Seventh Seal
Shot on location in the English countryside, Witchfinder General is a solid example of British historical horror that goes to great lengths to achieve an authentic feel with both the costumes and dialogue, which sadly marked director Michael Reeves’s swan song before his sad passing away the year following the movie’s release.
Given the subject matter, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Witchfinder General can get rather violent at times, but not in an exploitative way but instead highlight just how close to death everyone was during these volatile times and making this an extremely tension-filled viewing experience in which you never know who will live or die and just where the story will take you.
There are many fine performances across Vincent Price’s career, but his portrayal of Matthew Hopkins in my mind is his most accomplished and my favourite. Price’s Hopkins is a lot more interesting and nuanced than most of his previous characters. He sees no issues with punishing and torturing people for the sake of his religious beliefs but isn’t prepared to do the dirty work himself.
But it wasn’t just Price that gave a memorable performance. Heath, Ogilvy, and Davis are all magnificent, but it was Robert Russell who I found the most impressive of the supporting cast. It’s easy to believe you’re watching a man so corrupted by evil that torture comes so easily rather than an actor playing a role.
The only downside I found was the ending, which feels rather rushed when compared to the slow and methodical pace that the rest of the film follows. I’m convinced that given the interesting subject matter and the quality of the production, audiences would have quite happily sat through an additional 20-30 minutes of storytelling, ramping up the terror and fear further, before showing Hopkins and Stearne getting their deserved comeuppance for the multiple suffering and murders they were responsible for.
Bloody, entertaining and filled with multiple twists and turns. Witchfinder General isn’t a film for the squeamish but neither is it just another exploitative horror movie that treats real-life events as a plaything for lazy filmmakers. Instead, it demonstrates how the darkest of times can lead people to become monsters in the name of the ‘greater good’.