Directed by: Michael Reeves | 84 minutes | history, horror | Actors: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Robert Russell, Nicky Henson, Hilary Dwyer, Tony Selby, Michael Beint, Bernard Kay, Beaufoy Milton, John Treneman, Bill Maxwell, Peter Thomas, Maggie Kimberly, Dennis Thorne, Ann Tirard, Gillian Aldham, Hira Talfrey, Jack Lynn, Michael Segal, David Webb, Sally Douglas, Edward Palmer, Lee Peters, Peter Haigh, Godfrey James, Margaret Nolan, Philip Waddilove, Toby Lennon, Morris Jar, David Lyell, Alf joint, Martin Terry , Derek Ware, John Kidd, Susi Field, Patrick Wymark, Wilfred Brambell
“Witchfinder General” is set in England in 1645 when witchcraft was still widely believed and as a result fought with all their might. The beginning is significant and also directly sets the scene for the further dark course of events when a woman accused of witchcraft is hanged without any compassion. Immediately afterwards, witch hunter Hopkins (Price) shows up, accompanied by his assistant Stearne (Russel). Undoubtedly, in a number of witch prosecutions in the past, various witch hunters will have worked with the most sincere and best of intentions, but it soon becomes clear that this is not the case for Hopkins and Stearne. Hopkins and Stearne are not only richly rewarded financially for their witch-hunting practices, but Hopkins also uses the sexual services of his female victims who hope to avert the allegations of witchcraft. Stearne is a lusty sadist who clearly takes pleasure in the torture he can apply to his victims.
While the viewer’s sympathy cannot lie with these two villains for a moment, it is their performances that make this film the memorable kind. Horror icon Vincent Price is the star of the film, comes across as the personification of pure malice and manages to achieve a perpetually threatening appearance as the unscrupulous and calculating Hopkins who only uses the law as a means to gain from it himself. Russell is also in good shape as the sadistic and sarcastic executioner Stearne. What, in addition to the misdeeds committed by them, contributes to the aversion that this pair evokes is that they are aware of their own pernicious practices, which is reflected in several of their mutual remarks, but, supported by the law, hide this behind a mask piety and law enforcement. And it is with cringing disgust to see how the innocent victims of the pair have to undergo various sadistic humiliations and torture.
In addition to these relentless and sadistic practices, the horror in this film is caused by the helplessness of the accused who are subject to the arbitrariness and whims of these witch hunters. Whereby, once, for whatever nonsensical reason, the accusation “witch” has fallen, there is no escaping it. Both the torture and the tests to prove the witchcraft of the accused can hardly help but lead to confessions and subsequent executions. And if a confession is not made, there are some willing “witnesses” to be found with whom the guilt is still established without further doubt. And the fellow villagers who lived together for years? Also no help is to be expected: the stupid uncritical masses stand by, watch it with fascination and sometimes even help with the execution of the torture and the execution of the sentences. And so the accused have fallen into a nightmare in which the successive torments they have to undergo are extensively presented to the viewer. What can further increase the horror here is the idea that such scenes once actually took place, with which the film, in addition to the evoked horror, also gives a gloomy view of what people, with a clear conscience, can do to others. under the guise of whatever cover.
Not only did the witch hunts really happen, but Price’s film character Matthew Hopkins also once really existed, an unscrupulous mercenary who filled his pockets by passing one death sentence after another. Regarding the ultimate fate of the real Hopkins, the stories vary from emigration to America to his own execution on the charge of witchcraft. The ultimate fate of the Hopkins movie does not match. The way he is dealt with does meet the viewer’s sense of justice, but it is only partially satisfactory. The ultimate realization that the suffering caused by him cannot be reversed. Furthermore, can also provide the necessary comment
and made regarding the historical correctness of the various tortures and executions. In England, witches had to be tried and punished according to civil law since witchcraft was not considered a church offense there. These civil laws prohibit a number of torture and incineration that are used repeatedly in this film. However, for the horror that this film successfully evokes, this is not important but, just like the new forms of executions invented by Hopkins, they actually contribute to the creation of the dark atmosphere in this film.
Over the years, “Witchfinder General” has gained some sort of cult status, partly due to the disagreement that arose during the shooting between director Reeves and horror icon Vincent Price. Whether this status is justified… again it is up to the viewer to judge. Perhaps the conclusion is that the cult status of this film has been somewhat exaggerated, but Michael Reeves, who died at a young age in 1969, has shown himself to be a skilled director with this production. “Witchfinder General” is a film in which few bright spots can be discovered and in which the events that are presented to the viewer create a constantly dark atmosphere. A film that can also make you think, will linger in the memory of the viewer for longer than the average horror film, exceeds many horror films from that time and can therefore be called a must for the fan of the horror genre.