Matthew Hopkins is a very bad man. Posing as a witch hunter, Hopkins goes around the British countryside executing innocents and using his facade to take advantage of young women — all for a hefty fee. After his latest reign of terror, Hopkins find himself being tailed by one Richard Marshall, a British soldier seeking revenge for the death of his future father-in-law and violation of his betrothed Sarah. Marshall does this at the risk of being court-martialed for abandoning his post. The hunt grows more desperate as Marshall tracks Hopkins while also trying to keep up appearances with his commanding officers. It all comes to a brutal finale as Hopkin’s lays a trap for Marshall and Sarah that they don’t come away from unscathed.
Witchfinder General is a film I’ve never seen all the way through. It was quite the ride and fairly intense for a Vincent Price film. For all the villains Price played over the years, this is his finest and most despicable role. As the shrewd and dastardly Matthew Hopkins, Price drops the campy acting he is/was known for and actually brings a lot of substance to the role. A lot of his performance comes from a true sense of nervousness as the director, Micheal Reeves, was unhappy Price was cast as Hopkins by the studio. Reeves had wanted Donald Pleseance (Dr. Loomis from Halloween) to play the role. He made Price’s life miserable on the set, and brought out a stronger performance because of it. The two parted from the experience with a grudging respect.
Also surprising for a Price film, is just how dark Witchfinder General gets. Quite a few of the torture and execution sequences that Hopkins and his henchman dole out are surprisingly brutal and adds to the joy of Hopkin’s eventual come-uppance from Richard Marshall. The bleak finale of Witchfinder General makes the film all the more powerful and disturbing. I loved it
Witchfinder General has been marketed in some areas and video releases as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Conqueror Worm, in order to capitalize on Price’s work on Edgar Allen Poe adaptations for AIP pictures. Witchfinder General has nothing to do with Poe at all, and is indeed based on a true story of a guy named Matthew Hopkins, who sadly lived to a ripe old age and died in his bed of natural causes. This being an historical film, it’s difficult to really classify as a horror film (though their are plenty of elements of shocking situations). I still say it fits as a genre film, though very loosely.
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