Witchfinder General

Today we have another Vincent Price horror, but one that’s quite a bit different from House On Haunted Hill. This film is violent, brutal, sadistic and damn entertaining. It’s Michael Reeves’ 1968 film, Witchfinder General!!

Witchfinder General tells the story of legendary English Witchhunter, Matthew Hopkins (Price) who was a very real person in 16th century England, at the time of the civil war, who went around villages and executed witches; to put it simply. In Witchfinder General, Price as Hopkins goes around English villages and executes witches…notice the similarity. In a way, it’s a kind of biopic of one of the most sadistic men in English history and that makes it an interesting watch as well as an entertaining one. The entertainment really comes from Price, as you would expect. He is terrific in probably his darkest role, captivating, brutal and quotable. Price is always a delight to watch and he’s delightfully dark here.


The masterful Vincent Price as the sadistic Witchfinder

Other notable performances come from Robert Russell as John Stearne, Hopkins even more sadistic assistant in his pursuit of ‘witches’…none of which are witches of course, but that doesn’t stop them from torturing and burning them in some of the most difficult to watch scenes I have ever watched. Another notable performance is from Ian Ogilvy as Richard Marshall, the hero but not the star of the story who sets out on a path of revenge against Hopkins after he executed his fiancĂ© and father in law.


Ian Ogilvy as Roundhead soldier, Richard Marshall

Witchfinder General has everything that I look for in a horror film of its time. By its time, I mean 1968-1980, the period of brutal horrors, slasher horrors and unforgettable horrors. It has brutality in droves, it has sadism in droves and it has intensity in…droves. It also has an important religious aspect, another staple in many horror films. However, Witchfinder General takes a slightly unorthodox take on religion in horror films. Usually, Christianity comes out on top, in Dracula for example or in The Exorcist which will be coming up in a few days time. In this film, Christianity is considered villainous. Hopkins and Stearne are devout christians and they are ultimately the villains of the film…albeit compelling ones. This is another greatly interesting aspect of this film.


The brutal and unforgettable ‘burning scene’

Price is different in this to what he’s ever been before. He lets go of the campy greatness and embraces the darkness, yet he’s still as likeable and as watchable as ever. That is something that never changes about the great man.

In terms of the style of the film, it is not flamboyant and over the top like Hammer Horror films. It is not particularly atmospheric. What it is is gritty and realistic and that is what is so wonderful about it and why it is so effective and an unnerving, brutal film. You’ll find that quite a few of the films coming up in our horror journey are brutal and realistic and that’s one of the top reasons that I love this genre.


Robert Russell as Stearne and a perfect example of the film’s sadism

Witchfinder General is a treat and should be watched by any Price fan and any fan of the more brutal aspect of the horror genre. I am a big fan of it.

Tomorrow we move ahead 4 years and move from Britain to the U.S. and talk about another brutal and realistic film that spawned the career of one of the legendary directors of horror, Wes Craven. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about now.

Let me know your thoughts on this film and contact me at morgan@thepurpledon.com if you have any inquiries or suggestions for improvements to posts!

The Journey Continues Tomorrow

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