DVD released: September 1, 2003.
Approximate running time: 82 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
DVD Release: Prism Leisure
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL
Retail Price: £5.99
Ian Jane on October 6, 2003
|Quick links: [video] [audio] [extras] [overall]|
Released in North America by AIP
re-titled as Conqueror Worm (probably to cash in on the
success of the Corman/Price Poe films), Michael Reeves Witchfinder
General has recently been re-released in the United Kingdom uncut
and at a more than reasonably price (no pun intended).
The story is not an overly complicated
one. The immortal Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a former lawyer and
self-appointed (?) witch hunter who operated around Suffolk and Essex
during the English Civil War that waged from 1644 to 1646. Hopkins was a
rather despicable man responsible for the deaths of twenty three people
– nineteen of whom were accused witches and hanged for their crimes
against God, and four others who died in prison.
When Hopkins hears word of a Catholic
priest named John Lowes (Rupert Davies of The
Oblong Box) who has been know to associate with Satan, he and
his assistant, Stearne (played by Robert Russell) arrive on his doorstep
to accuse him, and a few of the local women, of witchcraft. Lowe’s
beautiful niece, Sarah, agrees to sleep with Hopkins in exchange for
sparing her uncle’s life, but things don’t go as planned and when
Hopkins leaves town, Stearne ends up raping her.
Hopkins returns and has Father Lowe
put to death despite his promise to Sarah, and when her fiancé, Richard
(Ian Ogilvy who had worked with Reeves a year prior in The Sorcerers)
arrives he swears he will send Hopkins to find true justice at the hands
of God and vows to kill him no matter what it takes.
Unfortunately for Richard, Hopkins is
as smart as he is sinister, and he and Stearne think to kidnap Sarah in
order to drag a false confession out of Richard so that they can legally
execute him for witchcraft.
Price turns in an excellent
performance as Hopkins, eschewing all sense of camp in favor of a very
serious turn as the self-righteous witch hunter. He’s menacing,
contemptuous, and perfect in the role, and comes quite close to literally
defining evil. Not only does his character do horrible things, but he does
it in the name of his religion (an all to common occurrence throughout
history), when in fact it is nothing more than an excuse for a perverted
sadistic man in a position of some power to inflict his will upon the
populace of the time.
Those expecting the camp appeal or the
tongue in cheek style horror movies that Price is oft times synonymous
with may be surprised to find Witchfinder General contains
some powerfully and disturbing interrogation scenes that are really
nothing more than torture scenarios, some of which are quite gruesome. In
the context of the film and its central titular character though, it makes
sense that they be there and they do add a sense of dread to the film that
it otherwise would not have had.
Overall, the film is a fascinating look at a strange time in English history with solid performances and an important, if blatantly obvious, socio-political message that is just as important today as it was in the day the events took place.
|The audio is given the Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono treatment and while for the most part the dialogue is reasonably clear and easy to understand, there are a few spots where the soundtrack does overshadow what is being said on screen, making it a bit difficult to comprehend those scenes. There is also the aforementioned repetition of audio snippets caused by the insertion of the deleted footage. Minimal hiss and distortion are present in a couple of spots, but overall, the track is serviceable.|
A few choice supplements are
included on the disc. First up is the trailer for Witchfinder
General, as well as for The Sorcerers (one of
Reeves’ earlier films). There is also a video from the band Cathedral
for their song, Matthew Hopkins, which is pretty corny.
The stills gallery is quite impressive, however, as it seems to have
included every piece of promotional art available and then some. It’s
set to music and plays like a slide show and it runs for about eleven
Filmographies for the key cast and
crewmembers are included on the disc as well, but the real treat for
fans is the twenty-two minute documentary on the films director, Michael
Reeves, entitled Blood Beast: The Films Of Michael Reeves.
Produced for British television in 1999 and featuring interview with an
assortment of people who both knew and worked with the enigmatic
director, it’s an interesting look at a talent that was never really
given it’s chance to come to fruition, as the young director died of a
drug overdose at the age of twenty-five.
The entire package is wrapped up in some great animated menus with voice over clips from Price running over top of them, and the disc also includes the requisite scene selection and some production notes as well. It would have been nice if they’d have been able to include the alternate Conqueror Worm opening and closing bits, which featured Price reading Poe’s poem, but that didn’t happen.
|Witchfinder General finds Price giving
one of his finest performances. It’s unfortunate that the audio and
video weren’t better on the DVD, but the extras are nice and the film
is totally uncut. This isn’t the perfect presentation, not by a long
shot, but it will do until MGM or someone else gives the film the
treatment it deserves, and the low selling price of the re-release make
this an easy recommendation.
To order this disc, check out www.xploitedcinema.com
|Film Rating||DVD Rating|
|Writers:||Tom Baker, Ronald Bassett||
|Cast:||Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Hilary Heath, Robert Russell||
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