Set in 1645, during the English Civil War. Richard Marshall, a young soldier (Roundhead) visits Sara, his lover, and marries her promising to her uncle, the village priest, that he will take her away from the forthcoming dangers that the priest fears will be coming to the village. Marshall then returns to his duties as the end of his army leave is over. Whilst he's away, Matthew Hopkins rides into town. He is the witchfinder who abuses the current current legal system in order to punish anyone he feels to be a witch. This time he has decided that the priest is a witch and proceeds to torture a confession out of him, to which in the end he eventually kills him. When Marshall rides back into town and discovers what has happened he vows vengeance and seeks out to kill Matthew Hopkins and his gang of witch hunters.
Witchfinder General is a 1968 Tigon British Film Productions and American International Pictures Co-Production. It was directed by Michael Reeves and stars Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, Ian Ogilvy as Richard Marshall and Hilary Dwyer as Sara. The film got cut considerably in the UK as the violence was considered too graphic as it depicts grisly torture methods. In a 2005 poll in the magazine Total Film, the film got ranked the 15th greatest horror film of all time. Since the director Michael Reeves' death due to a drug overdose at the age of 25, the film has gained a cult following.
Tigon British Film Productions was one of several film companies that made films in a similar style to that of which was already established by Hammer, they even used some of the same actors; Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Tigon produced several notably good films, the one that stands out in my mind is The Creeping Flesh which starred both Lee and Cushing. I haven't seen all of the Tigon productions but I'm pretty confident to say that Witchfinder General will rank up there with the company's best. It's nice to see a British film starring Vincent Price, this being due to the film being co-produced by American International who held an exclusive contract with him at them time, this being the reason he was unable to star in Amicus' The House That Dripped Blood.
Wilfrid Brambell makes a small appearance, and to my amusement it's notable that even when he's playing a 17th Century villager he is still cleaner and even just that little bit more presentable than when he plays 1970s Rag and Bone man Albert Steptoe.
The film itself I found rather entertaining, it kept me thrilled and interested. Although a lot of the graphic violence was removed from the final cut, I could still see how for the time, what remained could still provoke complaints. I personally felt the graphic violence was necessary as the film is depicting the horrific torture methods that real life witch hunters used in order to gain false confessions from their victims. I felt that Vincent Price gave a pretty good performance in this, better than in some of his other films in fact, I didn't feel he hammed it up as much. In fact I found him to be more sinister and creepy in this role, which worked perfectly. The film at times was rather beautifully shot, especially during the montages of Richard Marshall riding on horseback in search for Matthew Hopkins lit against the strong blue sky in one shot and against the setting sun in another. I rather enjoyed Witchfinder General and would recommend it to lovers of British Horror and of Vincent Price.
Witchfinder General 4/5