This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Witchfinder General (1968)



"By the way, do you know what they call me now? Witchfinder General; and there are those who think I should be appointed such for all of England-appointed by Parliament."
-Matthew Hopkins, witchfinder.




This film, while successful upon its original release, was relegated in US cinemas to midnight/drive-in screenings like Vincent Price's Edgar Allan Poe pictures. Indeed, its original US title was the somewhat-catchy The Conqueror Worm, the title of a Poe poem. Price's voice is even heard at the end credits of the US version reciting the poem (which is only half a page long). Had this movie received the Italicsame mainstream distribution as Rosemary's Baby, which was released the same year, it may have led to a Best Actor Oscar for Vincent Price, who portrays a villain that is the antithesis of the charming boogeymen he made his name on. One reason for this is that his character, one Matthew Hopkins, was a real-life witchhunter who traveled through 1645 England, during which time the country was engulfed in civil war, with his unscrupulous sidekick making money by torturing innocents accused of witchcraft. When one of his victims, a kind priest, dies as a result of such action, his niece and her lover seek vengeance. This film, like many others released during the late 1960s (and with 1968 arguably the most violent year of that turbulent decade), pushed the envelope in terms of onscreen violence. But the reason for this movie's greatness is the fact that it tackles the human capacity for violence head on. We find ourselves siding with characters who become as vicious as Hopkins.

Fans of the film have even had discussions about whether Hopkins could been seen as villainous or not. He's obviously motivated by money, but he always seems to be a nationalist when it comes to performing his acts.

This has actually become a topic of debate among those who have seen this film-Is Hopkins truly a monster or just doing his job? My take on this issue is that Hopkins is just as dangerous as many other real-life witchhunters of the period. Hence, he is not as sympathetic as the ones he deals with because it is his actions which prompts their own as the film goes on. The film also gained noteriety when its director, Michael Reeves, died at age 24 of a drug overdose not long after its release. His reported disrespect of Price during filming (Reeves's first choice for the role of Hopkins was Donald Pleasance but American International Pictures, the movie's distributor, insisted on Price) is believed to have influenced the actor's masterful performance, which Price himself would admit after filming wrapped. Reeves's death was truly a loss for the cinema as this, his third and final film, illustrated how he may have potentially become a cinema giant.

3 comments:

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  2. hmmm...sounds like it would be a good movie to watch at Halloween...I gotta tell my husband about it ;)

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  3. This is a classic Vincent Price film. A great historic-based movie. Should be watched by anyone interested in how witch trails affected western civilization. Good job on the review, Rob.

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