Witchfinder General

Year: 1968
Production Co: Tigon British Film Productions
Director: Michael Reeves
Writer: Tom Baker/Michael Reeves/Louis M Heyward/Ronald Bassett
Cast: Vincent Price

Very few movies genuinely upset me, and I was so affected by this one my response is to dismiss is as badly made garbage. While it's certainly not the highest quality film around, the content is at least effective enough to have been so affecting.

For any movie to revel so gleefully in the rape, torture and murder of women and then offer no respite or satisfactory resolution from it makes it seem like director Michael Reeves set out specifically to prompt such a reaction.

When the hero of the tale loses his mind at the end because he's denied the chance to visit the vengeance upon the villain the latter deserves, I felt enraged right along with him.

Does that make it a well-made movie? I suppose so, even for all the deficiencies and constraints the special effects technology and filmmaking style of the day imposed.

What makes it worse is the fact that it's historical fact puritans actually caused as much suffering as is depicted in the movie, but it's portrayed more like a nasty slasher movie meant to just make you sick rather than provide drama or thrills. Why Vincent Price later described it as his best role is beyond me.

He plays Matthew Hopkins, given authority by the Crown in the Middle Ages to hunt and destroy witches and using his position to victimise, rape and kill at his own whims even as he seems to know what tripe he's peddling since he can be bought off easily enough.

When a soldier goes off to war, leaving his winsome fiance behind, she falls victim to Hopkins as he descends on the village to spread terror and coercion with the constant threat of torture and murder. When he learns of her fate, he sets about ending Hopkins' regime of terror.

But while the plot unfolds, the story takes every opportunity to bait and prod you. It starts from the opening scene, where a mob drags a screaming and terrified woman up a hill to hang her for withcraft. No matter how cheesy the scene, my first thought was 'I don't want to be watching this'.

Before it's over you'll also see young women thrown into castle moats to drown, lowered slowly into a fire to be burned alive and any number of other grotesqueries that will turn your stomach. It makes me feel like a middle aged conservative rather than a liberal film lover who believes in freedom of speech, but I still can't decide why this film should exist.

Stylistically it looks and feels like a classic era Hammer horror film, but the hateful and violent misogyny make it feel like the sort of thing distributors want you to think all those wannabe grindhouse films always achieve.

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