Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer, Robert Russell, Rupert Davies, Nicky Henson, Tony Selby, Bernard Kay, Godfrey James, Michael Beint, John Trenaman, Bill Maxwell, Paul Ferris, Maggie Kimberly, Peter Haigh
Written by: Michael Reeves, Tom Baker, based on a novel by Ronald Bassett
Directed by: Michael Reeves
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 87
Date: 05/01/1968
IMDB

Witchfinder General (1968)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Sense of Spells

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This film has always enjoyed a cult following, perhaps because its director Michael Reeves died of a drug overdose shortly after its completion; he was only 25 and had made only three films. Or perhaps it's because it features one of Vincent Price's most serious and dramatic performances. It's considered a horror film, but it's really a costume movie with horror elements, and I found it a tad dull. Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a "witchfinder," who roams the countryside during the English civil war of the mid-1700s. Chaos reigns and Hopkins is allowed to get away with just about anything. He doesn't appear for some time, while we get to know the other characters: a priest (Rupert Davies), his beautiful niece (Hilary Dwyer), and her fiance Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), a soldier for Cromwell's army against the Royalists. Hopkins and his sadistic sidekick John Stearne (Robert Russell) make quick work of the priest and the girl, and Marshall seeks his revenge. Reeves lets his camera stare unblinkingly at the torture and blood, juxtaposing it with many lovely shots of the countryside (which might be found in any Merchant-Ivory film). It's an interesting indictment of blind piousness, but it's not much of a scare film for Halloween time.

DVD Details: Apparently when AIP opened the film in the United States, they changed the title to The Conqueror Worm and included a prologue of Price reading the Edgar Allan Poe poem of the same name. Legend also has it that yet another version exists with gratuitous nudity. It would have been interesting if MGM had included these tidbits in their new DVD release. Otherwise, we get a making-of featurette and a commentary track by actor Ogilvy and producer Philip Waddilove.

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