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Witchfinder General
The Conqueror Worm / Der Hexenjäger

UK 1968
produced by
Tigon/AIP
directed by Michael Reeves
starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer (= Hilary Heath), Rupert Davies, Robert Russell, Patrick Wymark, Wilfrid Brambell, Michael Beint, Nicky Henson, John Trenaman, William Maxwell, Tony Selby, Bernard Kay
written by Michael Reeves, Tom Baker (II), based on a book by Ronald Bassett, music by Paul Ferris

Matthew Hopkins

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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1845: In an England torn by civil war, where gouvernmental jurisdiction is scarce, the money grabbing unscrupulous self-appointed witchhunter Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) roams the countryside, especially the East that is already controlled by Cromwell's (Patrick Wymark) army.

& so it happens that he & his partner & torture-master John Stearne (Robert Russell) come to the small village of Brandiston, where the priest John Lowes (Rupert Davies) is accused of witchcraft by some villagers who think him to be a Royalist. Soon Hopkins & Stearne start torturing the man to get a confession from him, but when Hopkins lays eyes on his niece Sarah (Hilary Dwyer), he decides he has to have the woman at any cost ... & when she offers him her body in order to keep her uncle from further torture he happily agrees.

For a time, everything seems to go well, as Hopkins, as long as he makes nightly visits to Sarah, won't allow Stearne or anyone to lay hands on the priest. But then, when Hopkins is out, Stearne decides to have a little fun with Sarah on his own & rapes her. When Hopkins learns about this, he feels Sarah is spoilt for him, & executes the priest & several other witches publicly before moving on.

A short time later, Richard (Ian Ogilvy), a soldier in Cromwell's army & fiancé of Sarah, learns about this though & decides on the spot to take revenge, even if this means deserting, which almost costs him both his career & even his life when his superior learns of it. Only the fact that he once saved this superior's life now saves his own.

But when Richard gets an order to capture the English Kingm before he can escape to France, he sees another chance to do a little witchhunter-hunting on the side, & soon he can track down Hopkins to another small village - unfortunately the same small village Richard has moved Sarah to to save her from the mischievous villagers of Brandiston. & what's even more unfortunate is that Hopkins has learned about Richard tracking him, & has decided to turn the tables on him, accusing both him & the girl of witchcraft. & he would be successful too, as he & Stearne succeed in arrestuing the couple & bringing them down to their torture dungeon, but they havenT' taken into account Richard's 2 fellow soldiers, who will stop at nothing to save Richard, by now a captain ...

In the end though, they can do nothing more but to shoot Hopkins dead as an act of mercy when Richard frantically mutilates him with an axe, & all the while, Sarah is screaming, having gone mad from all the horrors.

 

Witchfinder General is today rightly considered as one of the milestones of the horror-genre, a no-nonsense macabre parable about human atrocities in times of instability & war, that would deliver its serious message in an entertaining context though, unembarassingly mixing history- & horror-elements (& even boldly adding a little bit of Western flavour), all complemented by an atmospheric direction & overall great performances - especially by Vincent Price, who had a rare opportunity that he could be equally great as a restrained actor as he was as the almost comedic ham - who as a consequence at this point in his career played almost exclusively in horror-comedies.

For American distribution, the film was retitled The Conquerer Worm by its American co-producer AIP, which was responsible for part of the budget & for the casting of Vincent Price, who then was an AIP contract player. The Conquerer Worm is the title of an Edgar Allan Poe poem that had virtually nothing to do with Witchfinder General, but the title was tagged on anyhow as AIP wanted to sell the movie in the States as part of their even by then vaning Edgar Allan Poe-cycle - an effort that is no longer understandable from today's point of view, given the cult status of the movie today, but made some sense back then.

Witchfinder General was quite a success in its time, too, & spawned many, invariably inferior but sometimes fairly interesting, imitations & rip-offs, most notably the infamous Hexen bis auf's Blut gequält/Mark of the Devil, Jess Franco's Der Hexentöter von Blackmoor/The Bloody Judge, & even Ken Russell's The Devils.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
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shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
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Out now from
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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD