Monday, 9 November 2015

Witchfinder General (1968)

"They swim! The mark of Satan is upon them! They must hang!"

It's clear why this film by Michael Reeves, who sadly died so very young, has achieved cult status: it's so incredibly violent, even sadistic, with one very memorable scene showing a poor young lady being lowered into the fire and slowly burned. It's an unashamedly sensational take on Matthew Hopkins which deals with the legend, not historical accuracy (the real Hopkins was only about 27 when he died of natural causes) and is anchored by a splendidly evil and charismatic performance by the one and only Vincent Price.

The film, shot largely on location, looks gorgeous and convinces as the Suffolk of the late Civil War. The ubiquitous Ian Ogilvy is splendid as our hero, Richard. The plot is functional but exciting as we gaze somewhat titillatingly on to the cruelties perpetuated by Hopkins and his dimmer yet more evil sidekick, Stearns. There is, I think, something more than a little creepy in the film's voyeuristic glee at the torture and execution of comely young women, that can't be denied. But Price's sheer charisma draws you in as you watch agog at one of the most evil characters in cinema.

A violent and, at times, extremely disturbing and misogynistic film that it is impossible not to be riveted by. Dark, edgy, uncomfortable in its sadistic use of the male gaze, but no one can accuse this of failing to be compelling viewing.

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