Tuesday, November 23, 2010
MATTHEW HOPKINS: WITCHFINDER GENERAL
MATTHEW HOPKINS: WITCHFINDER GENERAL (WITCHFINDER GENERAL; THE CONQUEROR WORM) (1968)
Directed by Michael Reeves
Vincent Price - Matthew Hopkins
Ian Ogilvy - Richard Marshall
Rupert Davies - John Lowes
Matthew Hopkins tours the lands of England, which is in civil strife, offering his services as a persecutor of witches. Aided by his sadistic accomplice John Stearne, he travels from city to city and wrenches confessions from "witches" in order to line his pockets and gain sexual favors.
I must say that this was a pleasant departure from what I was expecting from a Vincent Price film. The whole tone of the film was serious through and through which gave it a certain feeling that most of the British horror films of the 60's didn't have. This, I would have to say, was thanks to director Michael Reeves. His shots were well placed throughout and his use of action, when there was action on screen, was well done and tense and not used for the purpose of shock that I could tell. The only thing that took away from this was some modern day object which can be seen in certain scenes (plastic drainage pipes and tv aerials), but that's just me nitpicking at stuff that breaks the look of the film. But this doesn't stop him from having some amazingly tense moments on the screen, one of which is the witch burning that stands out the most, with the crowd watching and cheering while the suspect burns then cuts to children playing in said witches remains which are now ashes. His directing in the torture scenes are also well done due to the fact that it's not there for just the thrill of the audience but to show that what was done was brutal and unwarranted. The style in which the movie was shot was beautiful to look at throughout the movie which depicts mostly the English countryside and it's vastness to the open feel of the towns that are shown and the rich color that is there for all to see.
Vincent Price in this movie is amazing. In all the movies I've seen him in, this is his best role. He seems like a man possessed to make the world his and damn anyone that gets in his way. Usually in roles, Price hams it up, but in this one he just seems haunted while at the same time playing the character very unobtrusive which gave Hopkins a menace that can actually be felt. This can also be credited to Reeves who didn't want Price in the film and hated that he was cast. On the set the tension between the two was always visible specially when Reeves would call cut on a scene after Price just spoke one word, but this tension led to Price giving a powerful performance. Ian Ogilvy also did a fine job as Marshall. You can see the passion of him wanting to kill Hopkins and his assistant toward the end of the movie and how he is going to relish how it feels. The rest of the actors were quite well played as well, but the tend to fall in the shadow of Price no matter how well they do. This is mostly due to Reeves acknowledgment that he doesn't know nothing about acting and that's what the actors are for which worked quite well. I will admit though that I would have liked to hear the original lines as spoken by Robert Russell for John Stearne, due to the fact that his performance seems the weakest out of all the actors. This is probably due to Reeves having someone else dub the voice of Stearne because Reeves felt that Russell's voice was to high pitched.
The sound is my one big gripe in this movie. It just seems like when someone is being tortured they lowered the sound on the actually talking parts and raised the volume of the screams to max. To me, this got a bit tiring. Thankfully those scenes were usually spaced out and not used much. The score on the other hand was well done and used amazingly in the right places. I must point out that the version I saw was the original orchestral score version and not the American replaced Moog score.
The movie was well played and directed throughout. Tense where it needs to be and somewhat sadistic thanks to Russell's Stearne, though his voice seems off when talking. It was a brutal movie for it's time that watching now seems tame, but it still holds up well today, and even makes most movies of the torture-porn variety of recent years feel flat. I will admit that I love a good splatterfest that has no brains, but when a movie comes along such as this one and you can watch it, due yourself a favor and enjoy it even with it's flaws and dated feel. It's not a watch over and over again movie, but I will easily say it was a good movie.
Hands down the witch burning. 'Nuff said.
I'm going to kill you Hopkins.
The first time Price met Reeves, he told Price "I didn't want you, and I still don't want you, but I'm stuck with you!"
On the final day of shooting, Price showed up on the set visibly drunk, in which at that Reeves had Ogilvy “really lay into Vincent” with the stage axe in the final scene, in which Ogilvy complied with. Waddilove, one of the producers, fitted Price's costume with extra foam padding ahead of time, due to the fact that he heard what Reeves had planned.
During a filming of a scene, Reeves made a suggestion on which Price replied, "I've made 87 [sic] films. What have you done?" And Reeves responded: "I've made three good ones."
Also at one point during the filming of the movie, Vincent Price cooked for the entire cast and crew due to the catering truck broke down and wouldn't be there. Price went to a nearby town and bought everything himself for the meal to feed the crew. Michael Reeves was not present on the set that day.
Price regarded his performance in the movie as the finest of his horror movie career.