Thursday, October 23, 2014

Horrors of October - Witchfinder General (#23)

Witchfinder General (1968)

aka THE CONQUEROR WORM, which is the name Roger Corman's AIP studio gave it for America in order to further cash in on the popularity of their Poe pics, where Vincent Price was often the main star. This British horror film has nothing to do with the Poe poem, instead featuring a fictionalized story around real-life figure Matthew Hopkins, a 17th-century Parliament official who went from town to town in order to purge those of whom "practiced" witchcraft and "worshipped" Satan. Price naturally plays Hopkins, often sharing the screen with his sadism-happy enforcer Robert Russell, and like the professional actor that he is, he doesn't exhibit any of his usual camp behaviors and tics for this character. He's instead cold and calculating, playing a man that wholehearted believed his "righteous" ways in order to be paid in large sums of coin and to exploit the female flesh. Which leads us to the elephant in the room: this movie is extremely disturbing. The interrogation and trial scenes all relish the sight of crimson blood, torturous depravities, and closeups of smiling brutes. The first set of theses goes on for a great stretch of time, completely shutting down the rest of the plot in order for more rape and cruelty. Eventually, we do get back to our dashing soldier and his quest to save his girl and have his revenge, but that of course just leads to more violence and more sadism. Though I was shocked by how dark the film would often get, I was still enjoying the marvels and sheer audacity that director Michael Reeves would display, especially given the time of its release. But what really sealed the deal for me, however, to recommend this flick was its bold ending; the concluding catharsis is so disturbing, the remaining characters are either praying for God's forgiveness or screaming themselves into madness.


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