Monday, October 11, 2010

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968)

In 1645, England is in the midst of civil war, with Cromwell's men fighting the Royalists. Ian Ogilvy, a handsome soldier on Cromwell's side, saves an officer and is given leave to see his fiancée (Hilary Dwyer). Her uncle, a priest, fears the political chaos that is overtaking even the country villages and encourages them to get married as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the feared "Witchfinder General" (Vincent Price) shows up in the village; together with his assistant (Robert Russell), they go about the country using accusations of witchcraft and threats of torture in order to extort money and sexual favors. They accuse the priest and, though Dwyer sleeps with Price, her uncle is still hung, and Russell rapes her before the two leave the village. When Ogilvy hears the news, he vows revenge. This is really more a period melodrama than a horror film, though it has its share of blood and screaming. It's also much more serious and downbeat than the average 60s horror film. The last scene contains an act of horrific violence that is all the more effective for not being explicit, and a final moment which shows that bloodthirsty revenge is rarely satisfying. Price gives one of his finest performances, without an ounce of camp or exaggeration, as the hateful title character, and Ogilvy and Dwyer are much better than usually required for the romantic leads in horror films of the era. The director, Michael Reeves, was considered a wunderkind of low-budget cinema, but sadly only made three films before he died of a drug overdose, this being the last. It was released in America as THE CONQUEROR WORM in an attempt to tie it to Price's string of Poe films. Available in a number of edits, you should catch the MGM Midnite Movies DVD release to see the director's cut. [DVD]

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