2011.29: Witchfinder General (1968) *** June 25, 2011Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , trackback
Dir. Michael Reeves, 90 mins, TV Transmission.
This is a fascinating film, a proper ‘Horror’ film in a similar vein to the original The Wicker Man from the same period (what on earth happened to UK horror in the years since?). I’d never seen it before, expecting something in the Hammer Horror vein, so was very surprised by how it turned out to be rather different. While there is some gore and flesh here, really the film is more a chilling examination of ignorance and mans inhmanity to his common man.
The story of the notorious Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, who during the English Civil War found monetary profit by condemning and executing some 200+ ‘witches’ is fairly well known, and while there is actually little real evidence, the events undoubtedly occurred. Hopkins final fate seems to be uncertain, and the film wisely uses this to portray the events leading up to Hopkins death, towards the end of his crusade, so while much of it is conjecture and fiction, it is grounded in real historical events.
Although hampered by evident budget constraints, the film is very effective, with lush location filming (spoilt somewhat by obvious day-for-night shooting), fine performances and a remarkable pastoral score. I don’t want to labour the point as I’ve mentioned it before, but many times it brought to my mind The Wicker Man in it’s sense of mood and style. It also reminded me of the old ’sixties tv serial The Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe, somehow- I think that may have been due to the juxtaposition of the visuals and the music, which is very fine.
Vincent Price, minus his usual theatrics, is cold and menacing here with real presence - I was surprised how effective his subdued performance here is. Perhaps even more of a surprise is Ian Ogilvy, always to me a reminder of ITV’s slightly camp (at least as I remember it) remake of The Saint, who really shines in his role of the vengeful hero here, demonstrating an ability I’d have thought beyond him, frankly. Hilary Dwyer is wonderful as Ogilvy’s doomed fiancee. At the start she is your quintessential beautiful English rose not averse to using her womanly charms, and by films end she’s a lunatic, driven mad by her experiences.
Much like, again, The Wicker Man (sorry), this film has a rather bleak ending, in some ways akin to something Lovecraft might have wrote, madness falling upon those that survive the bloody denouement. I’m only surprised someone hasn’t noticed how powerful this film is and how rich its subject-matter is, and commenced a remake. It almost seems inevitable, just amazing that it hasn’t happened already.