Witchfinder General – or Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General to purists – is a 1968 British horror film directed by Michael Reeves (The She Beast; The Sorcerers) and starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy (The Sorcerers), and Hilary Dwyer. The screenplay was by Reeves and Tom Baker based on Ronald Bassett’s novel of the same name.
Made on a low budget of under £100,000, the movie was co-produced by Tigon British Film Productions and American International Pictures. The story details the heavily fictionalized murderous witch-hunting exploits of Matthew Hopkins, a 17th century English lawyer who claimed to have been appointed as a “Witch-finder Generall” by Parliament during the English Civil War to root out sorcery and witchcraft.
For the ‘Continental’ version, Tigon’s Tony Tenser shot additional nude scenes. It was retitled The Conqueror Worm in the United States by American International Pictures (AIP) in an attempt to link it with Roger Corman’s earlier series of Edgar Allan Poe-related films starring Price—although this movie has nothing to do with any of Poe’s stories, and only briefly alludes to his poem.
Director Reeves featured many scenes of intense onscreen torture and violence that were considered unusually sadistic at the time. Upon its theatrical release, the movie’s gruesome content was met with disgust by several film critics in the UK, despite it having been extensively censored by the British Board of Film Censors. In the US, the film was shown virtually intact and was a box office success, but it was almost completely ignored by reviewers.
The film gradually developed a large cult following. Over the years, several prominent critics championed the film, including J. Hoberman, Danny Peary, and Derek Malcolm. In 2005, the magazine Total Film named Witchfinder General the 15th greatest horror film of all time.
‘Time has not diminished the raw power of Witchfinder General. Its’ perfect historical setting, beautiful camerawork and unflinching portrayal of something we’d all rather not think about ever having happened sets it apart as quite possibly the greatest British Horror Film ever made. High praise indeed, but without a doubt deserved.’ Chris Wood, British Horror Films
“‘Harsh and dynamic, Reeves’ rendering of the English countryside, in which the purity of nature stands in sharp contrast to man’s cruelty and violence, remains unparalleled. The wild beauty of his landscapes is as far removed from Hammer’s studio-bound, colour-saturated faux gothic as you could imagine. Outstanding.’ Simon Braund, Empire
“If it wasn’t for the love story and revenge subplot Witchfinder General would be a historical drama. It is a bleak and ugly subject matter that is not treated lightly. Even the love story is full of dark corners. Sara Lowes is a very tragic character. What happens to Sara just further illustrates the depravity and unbridled power Hopkins was able to wield. I didn’t think this part of the subplot distracted from the overall morbid feeling of the film at all.” Goregirl’s Dungeon
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Cast and characters:
- Vincent Price … Matthew Hopkins
- Ian Ogilvy … Richard Marshall
- Rupert Davies … John Lowes
- Hilary Heath … Sara (as Hilary Dwyer)
- Robert Russell … John Stearne
- Nicky Henson … Swallow
- Tony Selby … Salter
- Bernard Kay … Fisherman
- Godfrey James … Webb
- Michael Beint … Captain Gordon
- John Trenaman … Harcourt (as John Treneman)
- Bill Maxwell … Gifford
- Paul Ferris … Paul (as Morris Jar)
- Maggie Kimberly … Elizabeth
- Peter Haigh … Lavenham Magistrate
- Hira Talfrey … Hanged Woman
- Ann Tirard … Old Woman
- Peter Thomas … Farrier
- Edward Palmer … Shepherd
- David Webb … Jailer
- Lee Peters … Sergeant
- David Lyell … Footsoldier
- Alf Joint … Sentry
- Martin Terry … Hoxne Innkeeper
- Jack Lynn … Brandeston Innkeeper
- Beaufoy Milton … Priest
- Dennis Thorne … Villager
- Michael Segal … Villager
- Toby Lenon … Old Man (as Toby Lennon)
- Margaret Nolan … Girl at Inn (as Maggie Nolan)
- Sally Douglas … Girl at Inn
- Donna Reading … Girl at Inn
- Patrick Wymark … Cromwell
- Wilfrid Brambell … Master Loach (as Wilfred Brambell)
- Gillian Aldam … Young Woman in Cell (as Gillian Aldham)
- Philip Waddilove … Soldier
- Derek Ware … Boy at Hoxne Inn
- John Kidd … Magistrate
- Susi Field … Girl at Inn
- Tasma Bereton … Girl at Inn (uncredited)
- Sally Geeson … Maid (uncredited)
- David Reynolds-Lacey … Unconscious Drunk in Tavern (uncredited)
- Sandy Seagar … Girl at Inn (uncredited)
- Ronald Soar … Villager (uncredited)
The countryside vistas seen in the chase scenes on horseback were shot on the Stanford Battle Area near Thetford, Norfolk. Lavenham, Suffolk, was used for the town square scene. The church used in the film is St. John The Evangelist in Rushford in Norfolk. The moat drowning and hanging scenes were filmed at Kentwell Hall, in Long Melford, Suffolk. The climax of the film was shot at Orford Castle, on the coast of East Anglia.
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