Saturday, December 1, 2007

WITCHFINDER GENERAL

Among the most welcome of this year’s "Midnite Movies" releases is director Michael Reeves’ final film, WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968). Previously only available in edited form as THE CONQUEROR WORM, with the home video addition of cheesy synth music replacing Paul Ferris’ lush symphonic score; this new edition finally restores the film to the filmmakers’ original intentions.

Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, who travels the English countryside, selling his services as a "witchfinder." For a fee, he puts accused witches to sadistic ‘tests," to determine whether they are truly in thrall to Satan. But, inevitably, he picks on the wrong victims, and finds an angry young soldier (Ian Ogilvy, AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS, THE SHE-BEAST) on his trail.

The last film of cult director Michael Reeves, who died of a drug overdose shortly after completing the movie, WITCHFINDER GENERAL has become something of a holy grail for horror film buffs. Now that it is available in its original form, fans can determine for themselves whether it lives up to its vaunted reputation. It’s a good film, no question, with one of Vincent Price’s most layered, serious performances ever. The whole cast is solid, the production values are strong, and the climax is startling even today.

MGM has given this classic horror film a fine treatment with this new release. The gorgeous transfer is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The soundtrack is in its original mono. Unlike most of the newer "Midnite Movies" titles, WITCHFINDER includes a couple of welcome bonus features: an audio commentary by actor Ian Ogilvy and co-producer Philip Waddilove, and an informative, well-produced retrospective documentary. My only complaint is that it would have been nice to have the U.S. opening titles (as THE CONQUERER WORM) with Price’s reading of the Poe poem as another extra.

Recommended.

BUY: Witchfinder General