31 Days of Horror 2016, Day 11: Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm) (1968)

“I believe him to be the most bloodthirsty character I have ever brought to the screen” Says Vincent Price of his portrayal of Matthew Hopkins, the titular character of Witchfinder General. This is a fair assessment, because I have never heard so much screaming in a movie. From the opening scene, people were letting forth noise from deep within. And they should be. The cruel judgement and punishments dispatched by the 17th century hired witch hunter are pretty scream worthy. And should one react to being repeatedly stabbed, bound and dunked into the river, or being branded with a a symbol of God…well then you must be a witch after all! To the gallows with you!

Aside from being screamy and audibly invasive, another thing this loose adaptation of Poe’s original story is, is very very British. Geez the acting is rigid, and it constantly feels like watching ambitious stage actors. The emotions run high, the fight scenes are big, and the dialogue is incredibly wordy. This isn’t so much a complaint as it is a general observation. I kind of liked how nobody ever made contact or landed an actual punch, and how when people fell down, they did so with a heartfelt tumble. Even more over the top, the blood in this movie was a vibrant red; like clumpy, fresh, oil paint. I have to wonder why reds are so RED in movies from the sixties and seventies, but I don’t have an answer. I can tell you that if you search for a technical reason for this phenomenon, you’ll find several interesting essays about how fake blood has changed over the years. Turns out, we keep making it darker and darker. 

There were some provoking shots in this revenge tale; following the path of the man who seeks to murder the Witchfinder for deeds misdone against his wife. The director is best known for horror films like this one, working with greats like Karloff and Lee. His filmography is short, but definitely impressive in that respect. Though there’s an air of cheesiness to Witchfinder General, it’s in a mostly charming sense, and is best accentuated by Price’s introduction and conclusory monologues (available on the Scream Factory edition of the film). 

Overall, I’d say once was enough, but I’m glad I watched this. 

Challenge fulfilled: Folk Horror


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