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Witchfinder General

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    Ian Jane
    Administrator

  • Witchfinder General


    Released by: Odeon
    Released on: 6/13/2011
    Directed by: Michael Reeves
    Cast: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies,
    Year: 1968

    The Movie:

    Released in North America by AIP re-titled as Conqueror Worm (probably to cash in on the success of the Corman/Price Poe films), Michael Reeves Witchfinder General arrives on Blu-ray thanks to the UK's Odeon Entertainment.

    The story is not an overly complicated one. The immortal Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a former lawyer and self-appointed (?) witch hunter who operated around Suffolk and Essex during the English Civil War that waged from 1644 to 1646. Hopkins was a rather despicable man responsible for the deaths of twenty three people - nineteen of whom were accused witches and hanged for their crimes against God, and four others who died in prison.

    When Hopkins hears word of a Catholic priest named John Lowes (Rupert Davies of The Oblong Box) who has been know to associate with Satan, he and his assistant, Stearne (played by Robert Russell) arrive on his doorstep to accuse him, and a few of the local women, of witchcraft. Lowe's beautiful niece, Sarah, agrees to sleep with Hopkins in exchange for sparing her uncle's life, but things don't go as planned and when Hopkins leaves town, Stearne ends up raping her.

    Hopkins returns and has Father Lowe put to death despite his promise to Sarah, and when her fiancé, Richard (Ian Ogilvy who had worked with Reeves a year prior in The Sorcerers) arrives he swears he will send Hopkins to find true justice at the hands of God and vows to kill him no matter what it takes.

    Unfortunately for Richard, Hopkins is as smart as he is sinister, and he and Stearne think to kidnap Sarah in order to drag a false confession out of Richard so that they can legally execute him for witchcraft.

    Price turns in an excellent performance as Hopkins, eschewing all sense of camp in favor of a very serious turn as the self-righteous witch hunter. He's menacing, contemptuous, and perfect in the role, and comes quite close to literally defining evil. Not only does his character do horrible things, but he does it in the name of his religion (an all to common occurrence throughout history), when in fact it is nothing more than an excuse for a perverted sadistic man in a position of some power to inflict his will upon the populace of the time.

    Those expecting the camp appeal or the tongue in cheek style horror movies that Price is oft times synonymous with may be surprised to find Witchfinder General contains some powerfully and disturbing interrogation scenes that are really nothing more than torture scenarios, some of which are quite gruesome. In the context of the film and its central titular character though, it makes sense that they be there and they do add a sense of dread to the film that it otherwise would not have had.

    Obviously, like in most films, some liberties were taken with the actual facts behind the Matthew Hopkins escapades. He wasn't killed by a vengeful soldier but was in fact put to one of his own tests by irate townsfolk who had become sick of his behavior. Unluckily for him, and quite ironically, he floated, and therefore must have rejected his baptism, so he was hung for witchcraft.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Witchfinder General looks good in this 1.85.1 widescreen AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer, quite a bit better than it has on DVD previously though it does understandably show its age in the form of minor print damage and the odd speck here and there. It looks like this transfer was taken from the restored MGM version made a few years ago as it shows much of the same wear, but the 1080p encode offers a lot more detail and considerably better color reproduction. Some very mild edge enhancement shows up here and there though there are no problems with compression artifacts or noise reduction.

    The only audio option for the movie is an English language DTS-HD 1.0 track and it gets the job done without any problems. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion worth complaining about. Compared to the MGM DVD release, the audio here is a little bit fuller sounding, though obviously it remains limited by the fact that it's a single channel track. Overall though, it sounds just fine.

    Extras are plentiful and of excellent quality, starting off with a commentary track from Reeves' friend and biographer Benjamin Halligan and former Tigon employee/film director Michael Armstrong, best known for directing Mark Of The Devil (a film quite obviously inspired by Witchfinder General in a big way!). Those very familiar with Reeves' all too brief career may find that they already know much of what is covered here but assuming you don't fall into that camp, you'll quite likely find a lot of interest in this discussion which covers everything from casting the film, issues that popped up on set, how the film was received and the controversy it set off upon initial release and more.

    Next up is the excellent featurette The Blood Beast: The Films Of Michael Reeves, a twenty four minute documentary which includes a lot of interviews with various cast and crew members who worked with or were close to the late director of Witchfinder General. This gives us a good overview of what made Reeves so talented and unique in genre filmmaking and it's quite an interesting watch, if rather tragic given how young he was when he died. Bloody Crimes: Witchcraft is a twenty-four minute featurette from 2002 which is basically just a tabloid TV style look at the place of witchcraft and the occult in modern day society and how it evolved over the years and which also talks about the persecution of witches in old England. Vincent Price On Aspel & Company is a ten minute interview taken from a British talk show in which Price appeared as a guest to discuss his films and his life's work - Price is as nice and charming as ever here and it's great to see this included here.

    Odeon have also included the Reeves shot film Intrusion, a ten minute quickie made on black and white film stock in 1961. It's a silent film though thankfully optional commentary is offered from Halligan and Armstrong which helps to put all of this in perspective an explain its significance. The source material used for this was in pretty rough shape but the film itself is quirky - it tells the story of a couple who are set upon by a pair of burglars and how the husband in turn sets things right.

    The Alternate Scenes From The Export Version included on the disc is the bits of footage that show the topless bar maidens that were trimmed while the Alternate Opening And Closing Credits are the credits sequences from the U.S. Version of the movie under the Conqueror Worm title with Price reading the poem from Edgar Allan Poe.

    Rounding out the extras is a theatrical trailer for the film, a still gallery (the only extra in HD aside from the alternate opening and closing scenes - the rest are SD and PAL format though the disc is region free), menus and chapter stops.

    The Final Word:

    Witchfinder General finds Price giving one of his finest performances and this Blu-ray release from Odeon absolutely does the film justice, from the excellent transfer down to the plentiful and interesting extra features.
    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screen caps!










    • Jimmy Simard
      #2
      Jimmy Simard
      Senior Member
      Jimmy Simard commented
      Editing a comment
      The lack of subtitles is something I've learned to live with... Luckilly my english isn't too bad (except for the speaking part... now this is what you call awfull). But it's true that some labels lose a lot of sales in the non english speaking markets because of that.

      Anyway because of your review I know now that this one is region free, so it will be order in a couple of months :up:

    • Paul L
      #3
      Paul L
      Scholar of Sleaze
      Paul L commented
      Editing a comment
      This is one of my favourite films and an amazing disc, easily one of my favourite releases of the year so far. Nice review, Ian.

    • Paul Casey
      #4
      Paul Casey
      Frito Bandito
      Paul Casey commented
      Editing a comment
      I've never seen this, an I'm not sure I'd like it. However, I think Conqueror Worm is a way better title.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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