Witchfinder General (1968), aka. The Conqueror Worm, starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies
Description of Witchfinder General
In Witchfinder General, a 17th-century British witch hunter during the time of Cromwell’s reign travels the English countryside. Doing his dirty work for the strict purpose of lining his pockets. Completely taking advantage of the civil strife, he terrorizes people and bends them to his will. He forces confessions from “witches” until a military officer risks treason to seek revenge against him.
Witchfinder General, aka. The Conqueror Worm is loosely based on history. There actually was a man named Matthew Hopkins, who falsely accused hundreds of being witches. And having them murdered. Here, he’s portrayed by Vincent Price, in one of his best performances. Price is known for portraying the tragic monster: Someone who is forced, by circumstances or fate, to do evil things. Not so here. There is nothing remotely sympathetic about the evil, corrupt Hopkins. And Vincent Price plays him as a totally evil, self-serving man. It’s very well done.
Unlike the historical account, here Hopkins is opposed by a young military man, determined to rescue — and avenge — his beloved. It likely makes for a better movie, but I prefer the historical version: Where the peasants have had enough, accuse Hopkins of being a warlock– and burn him at the stake.
Witchfinder General is an excellent film, with excellent performances all around, and is recommended for adult audiences.
Editorial review of Witchfinder General courtesy of Amazon.com
By consensus, Vincent Price’s finest performance among his gallery of horror-movie rogues comes in Witchfinder General, the intense 1968 film that erased any hint of camp from the actor’s persona. Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a sadistic 17th-century “witchfinder” who uses barbaric methods to identify (and invariably execute) supposed witches. Along with Price’s disciplined work, Witchfinder is also the best film by the talented and ill-fated director Michael Reeves, who was only 24 when he shot the movie. Blessed with a great feeling for English landscapes and an eye for blackly telling details (peasants roasting potatoes in the ashes of a burned witch), Reeves was clearly a promising filmmaker, who died in 1969 from a drug overdose.
The most vivid thing about Witchfinder General is the way it explicitly links paranoia and witch-hunting to misogyny, and how female sexual energy is seen by the ruling order as a threat. The final sequence is perhaps the most harrowing fade-out of any Sixties horror picture, and offers no comforting resolution.
Included on the Witchfinder package is a disc of three featurettes: a half-hour bio, the 12 minute Art of Fear that looks at his horror work (with the expected focus on the other films in this box set), and a 15 minute piece on other actors working with Price (although these actors are not interviewed, just the gallery of experts who speak in the other docs). TheWitchfinder disc includes a valuable backgrounder on the movie, including the story behind the original U.S. release of the film, titled The Conqueror Worm (to cash in on Price’s connection to Edgar Allan Poe works, which this is not), plus a commentary with producer Philip Waddilove and Michael Reeves’ favored leading man, Ian Ogilvy. –Robert Horton
Editorial review of The Conqueror Worm courtesy of Amazon.com
A bewigged Vincent Price goes full-on evil in The Conqueror Worm, based on the life of England’s self-proclaimed “Witchfinder General” Matthew Hopkins. Hopkins and his assistant, John Stern, ride through spectacular location shots around England, looking for disciples of the devil to torture and burn. (Indeed, the devil must be at work, for the skies are bright blue even though people keep saying it’s nighttime.)
Nevertheless, Hopkins and Stern seem to have a knack for picking on the innocent, notably the fiancée of young soldier Richard Marshall. Price turns in another top performance, delicately mixing false piety and sadism with a dash of lecherousness. Can Hopkins be stopped? Will Marshall risk desertion to save his love? Why are those women just sitting around the inn topless? The answers to these questions and more await you in The Conqueror Worm.