Reviewed by: Ryan Doom
What's it about
During the 1600ís in England, a man named Matthew Hopkins lead in the era of the witch-hunt for profit, burning anyone at the stake that seemed evil. Or that pissed him off.
Is it good movie?
Witches. Perhaps itís been brainwashed in my head that witches fly around on broomsticks. That they have giant caldrons and drops things like eye of newt in them. My notion of witches equals the Halloween version, plus, well, candy. So any film that focuses on what truly happened to supposed witches during the 1600ís also works as a bit of an eye opener. Understand that I know accused people were burned at the stake, but a film like Witchfinder General helps remind how completely fíed up times were. If a woman were accused of witchcraft, that would be it. Dead. Or as good as dead as any test theyíd be forced to take (like being dumped in a river, if they floated they were witches) would result in death. However, as depressing or sadistic as that all sounds, thereís an aspect here that makes this a pretty good flick. Price, Vincent Price.
Sure, we all know the types of characters Price played. Heís the bad guy. The ultimate evil character actor. And here heís given a good role, a real person named Matthew Hopkins who traveled England organizing good old fashion witch trials, and finding new methods of murder. Drowning, stabbing, torture, burning, heíd find unique ways to crack anyone into admitting they practiced the black magic. For anyone expecting this evil character to get his hand dirty, that isnít Priceís character. As Hopkins, he has minions to do the actual killings. He orders them. He threatens them. And thatís what makes Price more diabolical than the standard foe. Price, for his height and screen presence, remains a bit of a wimp. He dresses in frilly shirts. He doesnít ride a horse like a tough guy. But damn, he is evil. And though his minions could kick his sissy ass, no one dares mess with Price. Not for a second. He has the mind of a killer, and he never minds stabbing anyone in the back.
While the pacing sometimes drags, Witchfinder General remains an enjoyable flick that no fan of Price should be without. Price has a way on screen of demanding attention. Partly itís his voice. Partly his face. Or perhaps itís just the darkness of the character. Real emotion seems to exist. The idea of a man arriving in a town, picking and choosing who lives as a witch and designing methods impossible to survive seems sadistic as hell. He makes deals with the pretty girls in town to save their fathers if theyíll sleep with him. And there is something surreal about after killing a few townsfolk, then the town leader presenting him with a bag of cash for a job well done. Price here might not be a Michael Myers, but heís pretty damn twisted in his own sick way. And the fact he was real, makes him all the more scary.
Video / Audio
Video: A little grainy, but still looks good in 1.85:1 widescreen.
Audio: Donít expect this to sound like Star Wars. Mono, baby.
Audio Commentary: Co-producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogivy host a look at the classic. Now if you grew up on the movie, Ogivy has many stories for your enjoyment. But if this is the first time watching, the stories get a bit long at times and I wished at times for more insight into Price.
Witchfinder General: Michael Reevesí Horror Classic Trailer: A great 25 minute doc that gives all the insight one could want for a 1968 cheap horror film. A nice look at the movie and the true tale behind the story.
This isnít horror by modern terms (i.e. unstoppable villain, teenagers,), but Witchfinder General succeeds as a period horror piece with Price in a great, memorable role. Any fan of macabre or classic horror in general had better watch it. Or youíll be accused of being a witch. I mean it.