Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy. A 17th-century British witch hunter during the time of Cromwell's reign travels the English countryside as he does his dirty work for the strict purpose of lining his pockets. Completely taking advantage of the civil strife, he terrorizes people and bends them to his will, forcing confessions from witches" until a military officer risks treason to seek revenge against him. 1968/color/86 min/NR.
By consensus, Vincent Price's finest performance among his gallery of horror-movie rogues comes in Witchfinder General
, the intense 1968 film that erased any hint of camp from the actor's persona. Price plays Matthew Hopkins, a sadistic 17th-century "witchfinder" who uses barbaric methods to identify (and invariably execute) supposed witches. Along with Price's disciplined work, Witchfinder
is also the best film by the talented and ill-fated director Michael Reeves, who was only 24 when he shot the movie. Blessed with a great feeling for English landscapes and an eye for blackly telling details (peasants roasting potatoes in the ashes of a burned witch), Reeves was clearly a promising filmmaker, who died in 1969 from a drug overdose. The most vivid thing about Witchfinder General
is the way it explicitly links paranoia and witch-hunting to misogyny, and how female sexual energy is seen by the ruling order as a threat. The final sequence is perhaps the most harrowing fade-out of any Sixties horror picture, and offers no comforting resolution.
Included on the Witchfinder package is a disc of three featurettes: a half-hour bio, the 12minute Art of Fear that looks at his horror work (with the expected focus on the other films in this box set), and a 15minute piece on other actors working with Price (although these actors are not interviewed, just the gallery of experts who speak in the other docs). The Witchfinder disc includes a valuable backgrounder on the movie, including the story behind the original U.S. release of the film, titled The Conqueror Worm (to cash in on Price's connection to Edgar Allan Poe works, which this is not), plus a commentary with producer Philip Waddilove and Michael Reeves' favored leading man, Ian Ogilvy. --Robert Horton