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      Witchfinder General

      Released Aug 14, 1968 1h 38m Horror List
      89% Tomatometer 18 Reviews 66% Audience Score 5,000+ Ratings A disturbing tale of evil set during the English Civil War. When Matthew Hopkins is appointed Witchfinder General by the Puritans under Cromwell, he is empowered to travel the countryside with his henchmen and collect a fee for each witch from whom he extracts a confession - a policy which is exploited to the full. Read More Read Less

      Critics Reviews

      View All (18) Critics Reviews
      Keith Phipps The Dissolve A film about the terrifying combination of sadism and power. Rated: 4/5 Oct 22, 2013 Full Review J. Hoberman Village Voice It remains contemporary, and even frightening, in its evocation of cynical Puritanism and mass deception. May 31, 2005 Full Review Renata Adler New York Times Vincent Price has a good time as a materialistic witch-hunter and woman-disfigurer and dismemberer, and the audience at the dark, ornate New Amsterdam seemed to have a good time as well. May 9, 2005 Full Review Kristin Battestella InSession Film The mass hysteria, prayers, and consequences remain most timely and provocative considering there is never a single witch in the film... Apr 19, 2024 Full Review MFB Critics Monthly Film Bulletin Visually, the theme is beautifully supported by Reeves' subtle use of colour, in which the delicate patchwork greens of the English countryside are shot through by the colours of death and decay as Matthew Hopkins prowls through it robed in black. Mar 4, 2019 Full Review Fernando F. Croce CinePassion A legitimately beastly vision Aug 20, 2015 Full Review Read all reviews

      Audience Reviews

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      Matthew B Witchfinder General (to give the movie its original British name) is an example of how sometimes imagination can triumph over budgetary limitations. It seems astonishing to think of it, but some movies are only made so that the film studio can receive a tax write-off. Witchfinder General was made by AIP (American International Pictures) for this purpose, and they did not expect much from it. However they had underestimated the talents of promising young film director, Michael Reeves, here working on his third film. Alas, it was also to be his last one, and Reeves died from an accidental overdose of drugs and barbiturates soon after. We can only speculate on whether Reeves would have fulfilled the potential that his early movies showed. AIP did make one concession to add commercial appeal to the movie. They insisted on the casting of Vincent Price in the titular role. This may explain the changing of the movie title for American audiences. Price was known for having appeared in a number of movies based on stories by Edgar Allan Poe, and hence a title was chosen that alluded to a poem by Poe. Reeves was reluctant to have the veteran actor. He had wanted Donald Pleasance for the role, and had intended Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General to come across as a weak and ineffectual authority figure. Price's presence involved changing the personality of Hopkins to match the actor's more theatrical personality. he movie was cheaply made. Despite being set at the time of the Battle of Naseby during the English Civil War (1645), we see only a handful of soldiers, and just a brief skirmish. The head of the Parliamentary side, Oliver Cromwell makes a fleeting appearance (played by Patrick Wymark) to add some authenticity, but this is not really a film about the war. The lighting also leaves something to be desired, and night scenes are so dark that it is hard to see what is happening. At times there is a tackiness in certain scenes, e.g. the gratuitous nudity in a tavern scene. Reeves refused to have anything to do with the filming of this scene. Notwithstanding these flaws, Witchfinder General transcends the limits of its origins, and to some extent manages to turn material that could be crude and exploitative in other hands into something more serious and thoughtful. In fact the more greatest criticism that has levelled against Witchfinder General is the amount of sadism in the story. If we think that what we see on screen is cruel and unpleasant, then imagine what was not included. The British Board of Film Censors demanded great changes to the original script and removed several nasty scenes. Later after the movie was completed, another two minutes were lopped off. These have been restored to the movie now. The censored footage does not remove a single scene or event from the movie, but it does reduce the amount of time spent lingering on violent and unpleasant actions. Despite this double whammy of cuts, the final movie still drew a good deal of criticism for its sadism, which was unusually high for the time in which it was made. Indeed the movie is hard to watch at times. There is much human suffering on display. The opening credits contain darkened images, some of them depicting women screaming. There will be further scenes of screaming throughout the movie, right until the end when we hear a woman screaming as the end credits begin to roll. The story is loosely based on the activities of a real witchfinder general, Matthew Hopkins. The real Hopkins was responsible for the execution of 300 witches, about two-thirds of the total put to death during this time. The real Hopkins was considerably younger than Vincent Price, and he died of consumption, a different fate from that in the movie. Reeves then takes liberties with the historical facts. His concern is rather with building up a feel for the mood of the age, where civil war had left much of the country with limited governance and a vacuum of power. Throw in the religious hysteria and extreme misogyny of the people who lived then, and the time was ripe for the abuse of power by individuals such as Matthew Hopkins. While Witchfinder General faced both budgetary restrictions and strict censorship, I would not say that the film suffered as a result. It may even have benefitted from the limitations that put a curb on some of the movie's excesses. Witchfinder General is not always an easy watch, and I am uncertain how far the movie manages the balance between unflinching realism and exploitative sadism. Nonetheless the final product is a provocative, unflinching and audacious attempt to show the dangers of superstitious fervour, the failure of justice and the misuse of power. I do not know if Michael Reeves was gifted enough to have carved out a future niche in the market of challenging and intelligent moviemaking, but I am sad that he did not live long enough for us to find out. I wrote a longer appreciation of Witchfinder General on my blog page if you'd like to read more: Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 09/28/23 Full Review isla s This is a surprisingly thought provoking film. I didn't find it especially scary but for me it was more about the themes it covers - how people could abuse their power and authority over others and make townsfolk doubt the legitimacy of others. As a period drama its pretty good, as a character driven drama I'd say. Yes, I'd recommend this film. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review Audience Member Not really all that horrifying except for a few parts here and there. Plays like more of an adventure movie than anything else. Half decent. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 02/16/23 Full Review Liam D One of Vincent price's best horror movie an disturbing look at someone's power over everything Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 02/06/22 Full Review dave s Set in the 17th century during the reign of Oliver Cromwell, The Witchfinder General stars Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, a magistrate who travels the English countryside to try and execute those who have been accused of witchcraft. Despite being filled with torture and brutality, it's probably a bit of a misnomer to label it is a horror film. While it has its drawbacks (outdated fast zooms, an overbearing score typical of the era, and more than enough shots of angry men racing about on horses), the acting is pretty decent (most notably Price, who gives a surprisingly restrained performance), the atmosphere is relentlessly somber, and, despite the ugly subject matter, it is more often than not wildly entertaining despite its flaws. Rated 3 out of 5 stars 03/30/23 Full Review Audience Member Based on Ronald Bassett's — a man who was primarily known for his medical and pharmaceutical work — novel about Matthew Hopkins, a notorious 17th-century witch-hunter, this 1968 film was a co-production of Tigon British Film Productions and American-International Pictures (who retitled the film The Conqueror Worm to link it to their series of Edgar Allan Poe movies). Michael Reeves was 24 and only three films* into his career when he made this film, the tale of Hopkins (Price), a lawyer who has opportunistically become a witchhunter with no morality whatsoever, blackmailing and killing his way through the world. This film is pure nihilism and makes the statement that when the world goes to hell, there is no way to be an angel. Reeves saw Donald Pleasence as Price, but AIP only saw Vincent Price as the lead. Reeves had refused the courtesy of meeting Price at Heathrow Airport which was a "deliberate snub calculated to offend both Price and AIP" according to Benjamin Halligan's book Michael Reeves. When they met for the first time, Reeves said, "I didn't want you, and I still don't want you, but I'm stuck with you!" According to Kim Newman in Nightmare Movies, Reeves and Price argued over the actor's propensity to chew the scenery and Price supposedly said, "Young man, I have made eighty-four films. What have you done?" Reeves replied, "I've made three good ones." And that's how Reeves pushed Price into delivering the performance in this film. In the book Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, Price said that he wrote the director a ten-page letter after he saw the film, praising the director's work. Reeves wrote back, "I knew you would think so." After Reeves's death, Price would think back and say, "I realised what he wanted was a low-key, very laid-back, menacing performance. He did get it, but I was fighting him almost every step of the way. Had I known what he wanted, I would have cooperated." That said — Reeves was notoriously poor with actors, mainly concentrating on what the visual look of the film leaving the acting direction — outside of his playing with Price — to the actors. The poster tagline — "Leave the realized at home…and if you are squeamish stay home with them!" — isn't a lie. This is a film packed with some of the most intense torture and violence you'll see. It was heavily censored in England** — yet still upset people — and played uncut in the U.S. Hopkins is using the English Civil War and the destruction of social order to brutally abuse and torture those he deems witches throughout East Anglia. Then, he and his assistant John Stearne charge the local government for their work and move on. Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy, who was in several of Reeves' teenage short films and appeared in his movies The She Beast and The Sorcerers) is a young soldier returning home from the war, asking John Lowes (Rupert Davies) if he may marry his niece Sara (Hilary Dwyer, The Oblong Box, Scream of the Banshee). The old man confides that they are concerned for their safety and feel as if the village has turned on them as Marshall gives his word to protect them. As he leaves their town, he gives the witchfinder directions to get there. Hopkins and Stearne enter town and instantly go to work taking out witches, including using rats and hot needles to find the Devil's Mark inside Lowes. Sara offers sexual favors to protect her uncle and as soon as Hopkins leaves town, his partner assaults her. When Marshall returns, he marries Sara in his own ceremony and vows to kill the two men, nearly beating Stearnes to death. Yet the tables are turned and the hero must watch as his love is tortured before him. That's not the end, but I'd like you to see this for yourself. AIP originally made this movie as a tax write-off, but was surprised by the quality of the film. Samuel Z. Arkoff said, "Michael Reeves brought out some elements in Vincent that hadn't been seen in a long time. Vincent was more savage in the picture. Michael really brought out the balls in him. I was surprised how terrifying Vincent was in that. I hadn't expected it." This film led to the second wave of AIP Poe films like The Oblong Box (originally scheduled to be directed by Reeves, but handed over to Hessler after Reeves fell ill during pre-production), Murders in the Rue Morgue and Cry of the Banshee, which reteamed Price and Dwyer. It also inspired several inquisitonploitation*** films such as Mark of the Devil and The Bloody Judge, as well as leading the way for religious horror such as The Devils and the folk horror of The Blood on Satan's Claw. It also influenced metal, as the band Cathedral has a song "Hopkins (Witchfinder General)" and the band Witchfinder General outright took the name. Like all great NWOBHM bands, they have a self-titled song. There was even a BBC4 radio play, Vincent Price and the Horror of the English Blood Beast, which tells the story of the relationship between Price and Reeves. Sadly, a few months after this movie was released, director Reeves died in London at the age of 25 from an accidental alcohol and barbiturate overdose. What an incredible blow to the world of film, as obviously he was going to be a director whose work could only have gotten better. *Castle of the Living Dead, The She Beast and The Sorcerers. **Even the script provoked this reply from censors: "A study in sadism in which every detail of cruelty and suffering is lovingly dwelt on…a film which followed the script at all closely would run into endless censorship trouble." ***Yes, an invented term. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 02/06/23 Full Review Read all reviews Post a rating

      Cast & Crew

      86% 65% Spirits of the Dead 45% 36% The Oblong Box 29% 29% The Dunwich Horror 43% 70% House of Dark Shadows 70% 88% The Devils Discover more movies and TV shows. View More

      Movie Info

      Synopsis A disturbing tale of evil set during the English Civil War. When Matthew Hopkins is appointed Witchfinder General by the Puritans under Cromwell, he is empowered to travel the countryside with his henchmen and collect a fee for each witch from whom he extracts a confession - a policy which is exploited to the full.
      Michael Reeves
      Tony Tenser
      Tom Baker, Ronald Bassett, Louis M. Heyward, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Reeves
      American International Pictures, Image Entertainment Inc., Sinister Cinema, MGM/UA Home Entertainment Inc., Orion Pictures, Home Box Office (HBO) [us]
      Production Co
      Tigon Pictures
      Original Language
      Release Date (Theaters)
      Aug 14, 1968, Original
      Release Date (DVD)
      Sep 11, 2007
      1h 38m
      Sound Mix