The Witchfinder General (1968).

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A 1968 horror movie starring Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Heath, this movie tells the story of a young soldier, Richard (Ogilvy) who wants to try to put an end to the evils caused by a satanic witch-hunter, Matthew Hopkins (Price).

I have only had a brief furore into horror movies of the 1960s and 1970s. There has only been one other film which had surprised me as much as this one did – and that was The Wicker Man (1972).

I digress. This film takes place during the English Civil War. With the inevitable destruction of social order, the witch-finder Hopkins tortures people into confessing themselves to be witches. The film’s violent, horrific tone horrified audience upon first release. I must admit, even though as a 21st century viewer I have become somewhat hardened against the horror genre due to overuse, this was quite a chilling film. You can tell the movie was made on a very tight budget, but this time it doesn’t really matter.

The scenery is very stark in nature, which puts us in mind of a bleak 17th century landscape and existence. You can’t escape the torrent of blood, gore, pillage, ignorance, corruption and fear that permeates the film. It’s not so much about what you see but rather how it is put across. The ambiance worked well but if this film were to be remade in the 21st century it wouldn’t do too well because of the cinematic dependence on special effects and jump scares. This movie also relies quite heavily on chilling screams. If you don’t like that sort of thing, then I’d suggest you stay away.

Also, this film doesn’t seem able to fit into any particular genre. Is it horror? is it historical? Is it romance? Is it a war film? It doesn’t fit one stagnant category and that works in its favour. It is also a rare occurence – a horror movie where you actually care about the characters. Heath’s characterization of Richard’s fiancée Sarah was interesting. She wasn’t just the damsel to be killed off in the first 20 minutes of the movie. She starts out as a lovestruck young woman living with her uncle and in love with Richard, a soldier. As the film progresses she becomes a frightened shell of her former self as the net closes in. Hopkins and his witch-hunts become ruthless and hone in on sexual corruption and all manner of unspeakable things.

In Ogilvy was surprisingly OK as Richard. He starts out as little more than a cardboard cutout pretty-boy soldier who pines for his lady-love, but over the course of the film it revealed so much more. However, Vincent Price playing Hopkins probably topped them all.

MY RATING: **** / *****

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