Witchfinder General is a 1968 British horror film directed by Michael Reeves and starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Robert Russell and Hilary Dwyer. A thrilling watch set during the English Civil War, Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) and his assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell) travel the land taking care of ‘witches’.
At least that is what they claim to do. The reality is that Hopkins is insane & his assistant a warped & twisted individual. Together the pair visit towns under the pretence of official business & brutally torture individuals to gain confessions of witchcraft.
Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy) is a Roundhead who returns home to visit his lover, Sara (Hilary Dwyer). He is over-joyed to be given permission to marry her & heads back to his unit after spending the night with her.
Unfortunately for Richard, the town is next in line for a Hopkins visit. After her uncle is accused of witchcraft & due to be executed, Sara bargains for his life by offering her body to Hopkins. It doesn’t get her anywhere in the end & her uncle is tortured & killed alongside some villagers.
When Richard returns he is distraught about what has occurred & vows vengeance on Hopkins & Stearne. Disobeying his commander, he rides off in search of the witchfinder general.
With the look and feel of a British horror film, many might be turned off by Witchfinder General but they would be missing out on a fantastic horror film. An achievement considering the amount of censorship & production issues it faced. The story is exciting & very well paced, the actors all do standout jobs (Price is particularly menacing) and the constant intensity makes for a rapturous viewing.
It’s simply impossible to tear your eyes away from the screen.
The contrast of the beautiful English countryside against the evil behaviour of the characters is astonishingly effective. You’ll be taken in by what you see but filled with loathing for the characters & their behaviour. Their justifications & the reality that there is so much truth to this story makes for a truly compelling watch.
For it’s age, Witchfinder General holds up incredibly well. It still feels contemporary with its central story of unrelenting madness and how it corrupts essentially good people. Madness isn’t always as obvious as you might think.
One of the most important films to ever be made, an absolute classic.
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