Sunday, February 7, 2010

Burn, Torture, Repent

When you think of movies based on the persecution of witches throughout history, many films readily come to mind. Films such as The Crucible or The Devonsville Terror usually stand at the top of every list on the subject. While it is true that those are all very good examples and some classic tales, every once in a while, a film is made that outshines all of its peers, yet somehow strays far from popular and mainstream light.

In many ways, Michael Reeves' classic horror tale, Witchfinder General continues to strike fear in the unexpecting. From the beginning with the brutal depiction of a screaming woman hanging as her life fades away to the villainous display of torture and carnage at the end, this classic film strikes a chord with the truths of terror prevalent during this period of unrest. Today, 40-years after its release, this film stands as a horror classic and a historical testament to the wicked political realities that once existed.

To create such a classic, a great actor was needed to bring the lead character to life. Only a master could walk in the shoes of this vile true-life villain and make him believable. Horror icon Vincent Price, not only assumed the role, he transformed the character into a monster. In one of his greatest performances, Price drops his familiar mannerisms and creates a cruel and harsh tyrant that shows no signs of weakness or humanity.

In watching the movie today, the classic characteristics of the film shine through. As a precursor to some of the period horror movies, this film does a remarkable job of creating an atmosphere of unrest, while providing a sound historical view of the time. Set along a beautiful English countryside plagued with civil unrest, Hopkins rises to subject the innocent to accusations of witchcraft and superstition.

In looking at the career of Michael Reeves, whose life was tragically cut short by suicide, one can see that this film was his only real success. Yet, through it all, it stands as above many of the films of the genre. Witchfinder General is a masterpiece, and a must have film for fans of Vincent Price or of period horror classics. Like the famous Malleus Maleficarum, the 15th century witch hunter’s bible, sanctioned by Pope Innocent VIII and the Catholic Church to prosecute religious deviancy, his performance as Matthew Hopkins will stand the test of time.

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  1. Great reccomendation. I hadn't seen this one. I'll make a point of checking it out.

  2. I am a huge Price fan and definitely search out all of his films. This is a good one and one that can be found relatively cheap.