For Vincent Price’s 75th role we see him as Matthew Hopkins in 1968’s Witchfinder General, directed by Michael Reeves and based on the historical novel by Ronald Bassett. It is a tale of horror in the sense that for the most part these events did take place and people like Hopkins did exist.
Hopkins roams the countryside in Cromwell-era England searching for witches and doing God’s work by condemning them to death after torturing them into confessions of guilt. In reality these women and men (mostly young women) are innocent and a confession can be a murmur just before they pass out from blood loss. The accused are brought before Hopkins after he’s been paid by the town folk to basically exterminate the people that they find annoying or troublesome.
After Hopkins enjoys carnal pleasures with the accused young women, they are tortured, mostly by Hopkins’ assistant, who likes to watch and hear their screams, and then hanged. Amidst the chaos of civil war, Hopkins slips under the radar of the authorities and plays off the fears and religious beliefs of the common man to mask his sadist fetishes.
Hopkins’ reign of terror begins to unravel after he tortures and abuses a young woman whose soldier husband vows to avenge his wife’s honor. From there, we have scenes of Hopkins in various towns and villages doing his best to rid the world of the “foul ungodliness in women kind.”
Now that along with the whole torture/sex thing says to me that Hopkins had a bad run with women throughout his life. Maybe his mother abused him or he is a bastard son of many possible men. Perhaps his wife left him or became the town doorknob. Who knows such things? All I know is that we have a wonderful vehicle for Vincent Price to prove once more that he is the greatest ghoul, well maybe second or third, or tied for first with Lugosi and Karloff.
The last ten minutes or so is where this cult classic is best. Throughout we get to see torture, hangings, and chicks being burned alive, but here in the final moments we get to see the end of a madman and the creation of two more. Unlike the historical Matthew Hopkins, who passed peacefully in his own bed, our ghoulish hero dies beautifully at the end of an ax, hacked to pieces by the soldier.
In the soldier’s pursuit, he loses himself and goes insane with revenge while his wife goes bananas after the whole ordeal of lies, torture, and death. The film closes with her screams of insanity ringing in our ears like the bells of a grand cathedral ringing though out the countryside.
This low-budget English classic was also released in the U.S. as Edger Allen Poe’s The Conqueror Worm but has nothing to with the Poe poem. Figuring that American audiences would be more willing to see a Poe adaptation than some British flick an additional intro was added to the film, some voice work by Price reading Poe I imagine, and that was it. Whatever you call it though it is a fun movie to watch and as a DVD extra there is a half hour look at the film, “Witchfinder General: Michael Reeves Horror Classic,” which is insightful and just as entertaining.
Witchfinder General isn’t the greatest horror/thriller there is, but with the days getting shorter and the nights becoming longer it’s a good film for those late nights when the moon is shining bright and your groovy ghoulie girly is in your arms. Remember, ghoulies, it’s only make believe…or is it?
Written by Fantasma el Rey