thu 18/07/2024

DVD: Witchfinder General | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Witchfinder General

DVD: Witchfinder General

Best-looking presentation yet of a landmark British film

'Witchfinder General': Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) contemplates who's next for a torturing

Witchfinder General, along with The Wicker Man, has latterly been claimed as a pinnacle of a peculiarly British style of film. “Weird Britain” is a default description. It’ll do fine for these unsettling, intense horror films which draw from the British landscape and its history. This sparkling restoration of Witchfinder General can only enhance its status.

Witchfinder General DVDSet during the English Civil War, 1968’s Witchfinder General centres on freelance witch detector Matthew Hopkins. Naturally, he’s corrupt. The Wicker Man featured Christopher Lee and Witchfinder General features Vincent Price as Hopkins. Both actors could easily be hams, especially when shoehorned into quickly made genre outings, but each film used them seriously. As Hopkins, Price has a gravity but is slimy, often terrifying. Scenes of torture still seem gratuitously sadistic. Although director Michael Reeves was funded by US exploitation merchants AIP, he shrugged off the low-budget tropes for his third full-length film. Witchfinder General followed Revenge of the Blood Beast and The Sorcerers. Reeves died in February 1969 from an accidental barbiturate overdose after beginning work on The Oblong Box. He may have gone on to become a Nicolas Roeg, perhaps a Ken Russell. The what ifs are unanswerable.

The extraordinary Witchfinder General has never looked better. On this remaster (used earlier this year for a Blu-ray) colours are deeper than previous DVDs. There’s a greater clarity to the distant countryside seen in long shots. Contrasts are crisp, and imperfections that carried through from the film’s print for earlier releases have been excised. This issue utilises Reeves’s complete version of the film. The extras include the documentary The Blood Beast: The Films of Michael Reeves (seen on previous DVD issues), the film’s trailer, a stills gallery and Intrusion, a strange, silent Polanski-esque black-and-white Reeves short from 1961 (with an optional commentary). The export release, with added scenes that weren’t allowable under the UK certification, is not included.

This would have been a five-star review, but considering Witchfinder General's status, an in-depth booklet on the film and Reeves should have been part of the package. Nonetheless, the film itself surpasses all previous releases and this remains essential.

Watch the trailer for Witchfinder General


As Matthew Hopkins, Vincent Price has a gravity but is slimy, often terrifying


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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If it's 'an in-depth book' you're after, please consider the recently published 'Witchfinder General' by Ian Cooper, one of the first in a new series of books on horror films called Devil's Advocates. (Full disclosure - I am the publisher of said series.)

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