Monday, 1 September 2008

No.54 : Witchfinder General

IMDb Link :

During the English Civil War Mathew Hopkins makes a lucrative, and sexy, living travelling around East Anglia ridding towns of their alleged witches.

Young Roundhead trooper Richard (Ian ‘The Saint’ Ogilvy) is horrified to learn that Hopkins has killed his fiancĂ©e’s father and deflowered his bride to be. He vows revenge but is sidetracked by the Battle of Naesby and only just manages to send his now wife off to Laudanum. Unfortunately for all concerned Hopkins is heading off to that self same town and has the smell of witchiness in his nostrils.

After the battle Richard is charged by Oliver Cromwell to seek out the fleeing King, but has an agenda of his own. As he tears off to save his girl can he avoid Hopkins’ henchmen and accusations that he’s looking a bit witchy himself?

The plot of this film is pretty straightforward and for the most part it’s a revenge thriller. It is quite effective though in showing the paranoia and mob mentality prevalent at the time. Hopkins’ word is law and he can have any girl he wants lest he find a black cat and broom stick in her home. The film uses the full repertoire of witch killing and we see really gruesome executions in the form of hangings, drownings and a particularly horrible burning.

Vincent Price finds perhaps his best ever role as Matthew Hopkins, a true personification of evil. Happy to torture and kill for money he can only exist with the help of willing accusers who are happy to use him to settle grievances. In one case an ugly man accuses two lovelies, no doubt because they laughed off his advances.

Ian Ogilvy is pretty good as the righteous lead, as is Mr Johnston off ‘Fawlty Towers‘ as his friend. Elsewhere we are treated to a cameo from Albert Steptoe as a camp horse dealer, a style he later reprised in his grandstanding role in ‘Holiday on the Buses. Hopkins’ villainous aide was less good and a bit too full on to be believable.

The film is pretty cheap and the Battle of Naesby, for example, happens off screen - just as well really as the Roundhead army consisted of about six men. The effects were well done with the witch being lowered into the fire a real shocker.

You know a film has done its work when you can’t wait for the baddie to get his, and I certainly enjoyed the blood soaked finale.

Best Bit : “ send the two young ones up”; “What about the hag?”; “er, I’ll get to her later”

‘W’ Score 17/23

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