Witchfinder General title

AKA : Mathew Hopkins : The Witchfinder General, The Conqueror Worm, The Grand Inquisitor.

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Witchfinder GeneralSet in the mid 1600's during the English Civil War between the forces of Oliver Crowell and King Charles, the "Witchfinder General", which is loosely based on real characters and events, stars Vincent Price as Mathew Hopkins, the films titular villain.

Travelling the Eastern counties of England, Hopkins earns his living offering his services as a witch hunter to gullible townsfolk. Which usually involves torturing some unfortunate people to near death, who were usually guilty of nothing more than looking at some superstitious peasant sideways, to get them to confess to witchcraft.

When a young Roundhead cavalryman, Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), finds that Hopkins and his assistant Stearne (Robert Russel) had raped his wife Sarah (Hilary Dwyer) and executed her father, the local priest, for witchcraft whilst in his home village, he defies orders and sets after them with a small group of soldiers, on a personal quest for revenge.

But with Hopkins well liked by the towns Magistrates, who believe him to be doing the Lord's work, bringing him down will be no easy task.

Featuring various good olde fashioned methods of torture and execution, including people being ducked, branded, beaten, stuck with needles and burned alive at the stake (sounds like a fun way to earn a living), the film was considered extremely shocking for its day, which resulted in some of the more notorious scenes  being trimmed from the original UK release by the film censors.

If your a fan of the Hammer or Amicus style of horror films, you should really enjoy this. Vincent Price is excellent as the fiendish Witchfinder, though those who are old enough to remember the old TV series "Return of the Saint" may be surprised to see its lead actor Ian Ogilvy appearing in a horror film. Look out for "Steptoe and Son" actor Wilfred Bramble, who has a brief role as a peasant, providing one of the films more memorable lines "Oh, your a witchfinder? That's nice"

Overall Marks : 7/10.

Terrifying Trivia.

  • Alternate tag lines "There's a lot of screaming when there's this much at stake", "Leave the children at home, if you are squeamish, stay with them", "The years most violent film [UK theatrical]".

  • According to historians, though the real Mathew Hopkins claimed to hold the office of Witchfinder General, there is no proof that this title was actually bestowed upon him by parliament or sanctioned by any official source. What few records there are seem to indicate his motivations for witch-hunting were more financially, than religiously, motivated, even though it is believed he was the son of a clergyman. His witch-hunting trials, which he carried out around most of East Anglia, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, started in 1645, but came to an abrupt end in 1647 when he died in his home town of Manningtree Essex.

  • The original UK theatrical release was cut by the BBFC by about 1m 26s. These shortened most of the torture scenes and the end fight. This same cut version was released onto UK video in the 80's. Redemption films released an uncut restored version in 1995, but the restored scenes were of inferior quality as they were taken from a US laserdisc.

  • The European theatrical release of the film used some alternate shots during the Tavern scene, in which the young girls in it were exposing their breasts. These were included on the old Prism/Metrodome DVDs as extras, and can also be found as extras on the UK Blu-Ray by Odeon.

  • The films composer Paul Ferris had a small role in the film as one of the villagers. However he appeared under the pseudoname Morris Jar, which was a jokey nod to the French composer Maurice Jarre.

  • Apparently director Michael Reeves wanted Donald Pleasance to play the lead role, but the American co-financers AIP insisted he use Vincent Price.

  • Though set in 17th century, if you look closely you'll notice plastic gutterings and TV aerials on the background buildings in some shots.

  • Vincent Price was not initially struck on Michael Reeves directing style. Taking exception to being told by a young director in his early 20s about him "over acting" he asked "Young man, I have been in over 80 films, how many have you made?". Fortunately, Reeves won Price over with his reply which was simply "2 good ones", which caused much amusement on set.

  • The film has the standard disclaimer at the end saying the story and characters are entirely fictional, yet the film is based around actual events, and Mathew Hopkins was a real character. As was Oliver Cromwell, who appears in the film as played by Patrick Wymark.

  • The original US theatrical version was retitled "The Conqueror Worm" and included a poem from Edgar Allen Poe at the end of the movie. This version was uncut but used the "clothed" sequence from the Tavern scene. Subsequent US videos and the original DVD by MGM under this title also replaced the original soundtrack with an alternate score by Kendal Scmidt due to problems licensing the soundtrack. The current US DVD by MGM under the original title Witchfinder General is of the original uncut version, without the Edgar Allen Poe narratives and restores the original soundtrack.

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