AKA EDGAR ALLAN POE’S THE CONQUEROR WORM
Directed by Michael Reeves
Written by Ronald Bassett, Edgar Allen Poe (poem at the beginning), (Screenplay) Tom Baker, Michael Reeves, Louis M. Heyward
Starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hillary Dwyer, Robert Russell, & Rupert Davies
Retro-reviewed by Ambush Bug
I can’t say enough good things about this movie. WITCHFINDER GENERAL was one of those films I saw as a kid on one of those Saturday afternoon matinee TV shows and even though I’ve revisited it over and over, I could never get sick of seeing it. It’s a brutal, evil little film which doesn’t pull any punches and bites deep into any viewer’s heart brave enough to watch it.
Director Michael Reeves does a fantastic job of making this film look and feel authentic. There are so many shots of the English countryside in this one, it is almost a beautiful movie if not for the brutal acts depicted in it. When watching WITCHFINDER GENERAL, you might notice that it’s more of a Western than anything else, following an anti-hero as he rides into town on horseback. It’s easy to shoehorn this film into the horror genre, but Reeves’ attention to character, setting, and authenticity to the time make it so much more. The shots of the characters racing across the screen on horseback–some to save the day, others to ruin it–are the stuff of John Ford’s best cowboy films.
Michael Reeves provided the amazing camera work and direction, but WITCHFINDER GENERAL is what it is because of Vincent Price’s callous and conniving portrayal of Matthew Hopkins. Though it was rumored that Price and the director battled with one another on set, it doesn’t show at all in this, in my opinion one of Price’s best performances. He is absolutely evil in this role—his dead eyes staring at the burning “witches”, his pompous posturings as he rides into town to pass judgment. Price owns this role and sheds his usual wink and smirk one often sees in his other horror film roles that were indeed schlocky. Price leaves the schlock at home here and plays it completely straight. In Matthew Hopkins, Price gives us one of the most evil men in the history of cinema.
What more can I say? I love WITCHFINDER GENERAL more than any other film in this week’s column and probably most of the previous columns here at AICN HORROR. I loved it so much, when I had a chance to write a prequel to it, I did so for Bluewater Comics’ VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS comic ( you can pick up a copy of VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS #20 WITCHFINDER GENERAL here if interested ). Though named after Edgar Allen Poe’s THE CONQUEROR WORM here in the States, apart from a line at the beginning of the film, WITCHFINDER GENERAL has nothing to do with the poem. Nevertheless, it’s such a solid movie filled with a memorable villain, delicious direction, and characters you care for. It’s an unflinching film that looks at a terrible man doing terrible things. It’s not a witch film, per se, but about a persecutor who would stop at nothing to fulfill a misguided quest.