An avid watcher of Vincent Price films, I am a great fan of the style of camp gothic horror he perfected along with Roger Corman. I was totally unprepared for what I saw in this film.
Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a figure who looms large in the British folk memory. The Witchfinder General, a man of infinite infamy. Hopkins was a lawyer from East Anglia, who used the religious mania and political turmoil of the Civil War to prey upon his victims, persuading gullible villagers that various citizens were witches, and putting them to horrible deaths.
Price is totally chilling as the sadistic and cynical Hopkins. There is no hint of his more comedic performances here, he dominates the film and his malevolent presence overshadows every scene. The film follows his visits to several villages and explores his methods and motivations, leading to the deaths of various innocents. The story also follows a young soldier (an impressive Ian Ogilvy) in Cromwell's army, who is driven to revenge after Hopkins preys upon those close to him.
Director Michael Reeves beautifully brings the era of the civil war to life with some impressive location work and cinematography. He directs with a brisk pace, but manages to explore many characters fully and presents them as real people. Sadly, this was to be his last film as he died shortly after. Also worth getting is his only other work, `The Sorcerers', again with Ogilvy and an aged Boris Karloff. He only made two films but both were masterpieces that any director would be proud of.
It is hard to believe that this film was produced by Tigon, a film studio set up as a cheap rival to Hammer. It has a well crafted and well produced feel to it.
This special edition is pretty good. The film is presented in 16:9 widescreen with a mono soundtrack. The picture has been remastered and restored, and it shows. There are some decent extras, including a documentary about Michael Reeves and a previously unreleased short film `Intrusion', which is worth a look.
A great release for a great film. For my money a horror classic that stands alongside the `Wicker Man'.
on 8 July 2008
Every lover of film has had a pivotal film experience, the movie that made such an impact on them that they have never forgotten it. For me WITCHFINDER GENERAL is that film. I first saw it in 1969 as THE CONQUERER WORM (AIP's American release title designed to cash in on the Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe series although the movie has nothing to do with Poe).
I was 17 years old, just about to complete my junior year of high school in Greenville, South Carolina, and was a big fan of the Roger Corman/Vincent Price Poe series. I had seen very few films that would not qualify as G rated. The ratings system had just been introduced the year before (1968) and this film was rated M for mature audiences. Today it rates an R. It was a complete shock to the system in every way. It was the first time I had seen nudity/lovemaking before and the violence was painful and ugly. Vincent Price was cold and hard without a trace of his usual mannerisms and therefore not sympathetic in the least. To top it all off there was no happy ending and people were worse off than they were before.
Of course these things had been in films since the silent era but it was the first time I had seen them and we always remember our firsts. I have seen just about everything in the movies since then but seeing WITCHFINDER nearly 40 years later I'm amazed at how well it holds up. I am happy to report that after years of substandard VHS and DVD editions this version features the original director's cut in a beautiful print with the original Paul Ferris score issuing from the soundtrack. An added bonus is the commentary which features star Ian Ogilvy that fills in the background of the making of the film. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the film is set during the English Civil War and pits two young lovers against a sadistic Puritan witchfinder. The director, Michael Reeves, died shortly afterwards of an accidental prescription drug overdose at the age of 25.
The 5 star rating is purely subjective because of the important part it played in my overall movie development but it's a solid 4 star film anyway especially considering the limited budget Reeves had to work with. Currently available on Region 1 DVD only.
on 12 August 2010
A superb film, and for this price one cannot complain.
However the description given here in amazon of THIS edition of the dvd is incorrect - there is only one cut of the film on here, and NO extras at all.
I give the film 4 stars - an absolute classic and still pretty disturbing even by today's jaded standards. It's probably Vincent Price's finest hour too. A classic in every sense.
4-stars for the film, but this is a bare bones release.
Note to Amazon: COuld you please delete the DVD desription as it is clearly inaccurate and misleading - I ordered the DVD because I wanted those extra scenes mentioned.....
on 16 June 2011
i was very sceptical when i heard that odeon films were releasing witchfinder general on blu ray,because some of there dvd releases are of questionable quality.however,i purchased the blu ray and have just watched it and i have to admit,that i was wrong.the blu ray is of amazing quality and this film has never looked so good.the picture quality is stunning and in my opinion,is better quality than some modern films on blu ray.the picture is clear,the audio is clear,the colours are vivid and i am so glad that i opted to upgrade my dvd to blu ray,as it was worth every penny.this is one of my favourite films and it has at last been given the quality release that it deserves.well done odeon films for releasing such a beautiful transfer of this classic horror gem and may you carry on releasing such quality horror blu rays.my advice to all is to buy this blu ray,you won't be sorry that you did.
The masterful direction of Michael Reeves has blended cracking adventure, achingly beautiful photography, inspired use of violence/horror, a genuinely moving love story and a memorable stirring score into, quite simply, one of the best British movies of all time.
Reeves coaxed a life-time best performance from veteran actor Vincent Price (I'll leave the viewer to discover the delightful anecdote about this in the accompanying documentary), as Matthew Hopkins. No Abominably Dr Phibes here! Price keeps the hamminess in check to deliver a genuinely chilling and convincing performance. His assistant, the utterly egotistical and brutal John Stearne, is superbly played by Robert Russell. Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer are also magnificent as the young lovers, who have the misfortune to cross the path of the Witchfinder. The tender beauty of their love scene generates a huge amount of empathy with the lovers and contrasts most markedly with the horrors to come.
Some elements of very black gallows humour - the kids roasting their potatoes in the post-execution fire, and a cheeky cameo from 'old man Steptoe', were truly inspired, but Reeves brutally realistic (some would argue pessimistic) view of humanity, leads us to the inevitable jaw-droppingly stark and bleak conclusion.
The DVD presentation is generally good, although the additional scenes from the export version are of noticeably poorer picture quality with apparently no attempt having been made to digitally restore them. This is a shame, as some of the interrogation scenes and the tavern scenes with John Stearne are genuinely compelling. The audio - Dolby mono, is adequately clear, but with the occasional soupcon of distortion. The extras include the theatrical trailer, production notes and, importantly, an excellent and revealing documentary about the tragically short life of the hugely talented Michael Reeves.
If you like a movie with a feel-good ending, then don't touch this DVD with a 16-foot Civil War pike, but if you enjoy very powerful, memorable and disturbing cinema, then the masterpiece that is Witchfinder General is an indispensable purchase.
**** UPDATE ****
Being one of my all-time favourite movies, I couldn't resist treating myself to the "Digitally Remastered Special Edition" Blu-Ray. Along with some 1970's prog-rock albums, Witchfinder General has now added itself to that exclusive list of products that muggins here has bought on three different media types. But was it worth it? We'll come to that in a minute or so. Let's run through the comparisons; first thing that strikes you is how vivid the colours are on the BD. The crimson parliamentarian uniforms look quite stunning against the forest backdrop, where every green leaf appears in sharp focus. The green velvet of Hopkins' jerkin looks far more impressive than the slightly muddier colours on the DVD. A degree of grain is evident in some scenes - particularly the landscape and evening (day for night) shots, but all close ups are remarkably sharp. Picture ratio is the slightly more natural 1:85:1, as opposed to the DVD's 16:9 (1.78:1). Slightly disappointingly, audio has not been remastered into any form of virtual surround, but remains as mono. They have removed the occasional distortion though, which slightly marred some dialogue and Paul Ferris' beautiful theme music on the DVD. The extras are almost identical to those on the DVD and include the Blood Beast documentary, trailer, extended scenes and interview with Vincent Price. The special feature that is "exclusive to Blu-Ray" is the audio commentary, which is worth one listen I suppose (thanks for pointing out that telegraph pole!). Disappointingly, whilst the extended scenes (more nudity and gore) have been cleaned up (in the picture quality sense you gather!) to something approaching HD here, they are only available as clips on the special features menu. On the DVD, I had the option to play the full extended cut of the movie. Curiously, the BD version claims to run for 87 minutes, whereas the standard director's cut on the DVD claims to run for 82 minutes. I am unclear as to what's gone into the extra 5 minutes. So, whilst the move up from DVD to Blu-Ray certainly isn't as dramatic as the move from VHS to DVD, is this version worth purchasing? Yes, of course it is! Go on; treat yourselves to the best looking version of one of the greatest British films of all time!
on 15 June 2011
To all you blu ray naysayers I give you this - a movie over 40 years old and looking absolutely incredible. You've never seen the landscapes this beautiful, the uniforms so vivid, Vincent Price's acting so subtle. Given the movies low budget and age I would say this is the biggest revelation I've yet had in hi-def - roll on some more 60s/70s British horror gems. Does the film itself hold up? Absolutely. I never noticed before how much like a western Michael Reeves made it, right down to the soundtrack. The ducking and the burning scenes remain two of horrors most upsetting set pieces. Only the twin blights of the period - rotten day for night photography (just one scene) and blood like red paint prevent perfection. To sum up, if you're swithering over a dvd upgrade my advice is to go for it - you'll never need to buy this classic again.
Master of Horror legend 'Vincent Price' plays 'Mathew Hopkins' who as a distraction
from the 'Royalist/Cromwell civil-war, with sadistic assistant 'John Stearn' (Robert
Russell) offer their services, at a price, to identify potential Witches living within the
communities of a fearful and superstitious villages of South-East Britain, carrying
out a torture and cleansing regime to extract a confession.
'Hopkins' and 'Stearn' are heading toward the small town of 'Brandistone' to investigate
accusations against the local Priest, 'John Lowes' (Rupert Davies)
The Priests niece 'Sarah' (Hilary Heath) is to marry 'Roundhead' Officer 'Richard Marshall'
(Ian Ogilvy) who in return has promised 'John Lowes' that he'll protect 'Sarah'
When 'Richard' learns of what has taken place in Brandistone' in his absence he takes
unofficial leave from his duties to pursue 'Hopkins' and 'Stearn' to serve justice upon them.
This is a nostalgic trip back in time giving an opportunity to reflect on a film we'd have viewed
as a Horror movie back in the late 60's.
The film of course does contain scenes of violence in the shape of torture, carrying out execution,
and some fight scenes.
This a 1968 movie that has been given an HD upgrade, which certainly gives a sharper picture
quality to that of a DVD version, some of the 80's and 90's upgrades are not as good in truth.
The film a journey into a bygone age in which the fearful and uneducated fell victim of ruthless
Special Features -
* Audio Commentary with 'Benjamin Halligan' and 'Michael Reeves'
* The Blood Beast - The Films of 'Michael Reeves' (SD 24 mins)
* Blood Crimes - Witchcraft (SD 24 mins)
* 'Vincent Price' on Aspel and Company (SD 10 mins)
* Intrusion - 'Michael Reeves' short film (SD 10 mins)
* Alternative Scenes from the Export Version (SD)
* Alternative Opening and Closing Credits (HD)
* Theatrical Trailer (SD)
* Stills Gallery (HD)
on 20 July 2007
A clear breakaway from the formula horror films that filled the 1960s, from Hammer, Amicus and Roger Corman. This Tigon production relied on a young maverick director delivering us on a new path to damnable happenings. In this artily directed film he gives us a horror that was historically real. The lovely introductory spoken narrative explaining the dire state of England being torn apart by civil war sets the serious tone for the rest of this film, the sort of tone that had been missing from all the big studio horror films mentioned above. This is not fantasy horror, we are being reminded, but real horror fashioned out of religious paranoia. So when we eventually get to meet the villain of the piece, the stern puritan lawyer Matthew Hopkins, who we find is manipulating this paranoia and anti Catholic sentiment for his own perverted power lust and financial gain, we are not in any way surprised to see his portrayer, Vincent Price playing it very straight. Price knows exactly what he is being asked to portray: pure, twisted, opportunistic, bigotted, sanctimonious humanity-real horror for a change, not fantasy horror where he keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek. For this alone, it is a remarkable film, and a lot of the credit has to go to Reeves. Because the monster of this piece is human, the viewer's sympathy is with the hero of the film (played very well by Ian Olgivy) far more, I think, than it is in say, a Dracula or werewolf film. Because of this realness it is a very memorable film, and it's no wonder it has acquired cult film status. The photography is delicious, taking us on a panoramic tour through a lush and rural East Anglia, mostly on horseback. Something different, this, for horror film fans, and in my own humble reckoning, one of the very best of all time. The makers of The Village (nowhere near as good, or frightening) were clearly influenced by this minor classic.
Vincent Price had a long body of work, but Witchfinder General is one of his most distinguished films. The film very horrific, but it is not really a horror film. It is haunting, stomach churning, and evocative because it is based on actual events, so it removes that safety net of make believe. In a straight forward historical film, set in the period of Cromwell, Price is the notorious Matthew Hopkins. A man sent to find witches under Cromwell's protection.
Ian Ogilvy plays a Marshal in Cromwell's army and he is in love with Sarah the ward of the local priest. Sarah warns him strange things are happening in the town. Cromwell, known for his anti-catholic sentiment, was ridding the area of Catholic priest by permitting them to be accused of Heresy. Little does he know as he rides off, pausing to give directions to two strange men, that he just directed Hopkins and his toadie to Sarah and her guardian...
The score sets a poignant tone, the acting is superb with Price in a very non-hammy performance. It is also notable for being directed by Michael Reeve (Ogilvy's friend and they made Revenge of the Blood Beast and And Now the Screaming Starts together). Reeve showed the promise of being a brilliant director, but he died after the completion of his third film.
The film is disturbing, unsettling, but a great & neglected work.
on 6 June 2014
WITCHFINDER GENERAL, the 1968 cult classic starring Vincent Price in one of his best roles is finally available uncut, restoring all previous cuts.
Like MARK OF THE DEVIL and THE DEVILS, WITCHFINDER GENERAL deals with the inquisition, this time in England during the civil strife, but of the three it is the least controversial.
The cast is great, especially Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, a stone-cold sadistic and cruel man. This is by far Price's best and most chilling performance.
Director Michael Reeves created a masterpiece here: the pacing is great, yet there is enough time to introduce and develop the characters thoroughly. The location is brilliant, it delivers the ultimate "being there" feel.
5.0 OUT OF 5.0 STARS.
Reviewed version: 2011 Odeon Entertainment UK Blu-ray
Feature running time: 87 mins. (uncut)
Rating: Unrated (MPAA) / 18 (BBFC)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 Mono
Extras: Audio commentary, Theatrical Trailer, Alternate credits, Alternate scenes, Featurettes, Short Film "Intrusion", Still Gallery, Interview with Vincent Price
Region: A, B, C
Both, picture and sound quality are surprisingly good. There is grain throughout but overall it's a B+. The audio is good for it's limited capabilities (B). Good extras, including a very humorous interview with Vincent Price.