Written by: Michael Den Boer on June 6th, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: UK, 1968
Director: Michael Reeves
Writers: Michael Reeves, Tom Baker, Louis M. Heyward
Cast: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Patrick Wymark, Wilfrid Brambell, Hilary Dwyer
BluRay released: June 13th, 2011
Approximate running time: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85.1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive
Rating: 18 (UK)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
Blu-Ray Release: Odeon Entertainment
Region Coding: Region 0
Retail Price: £14.99
Synopsis: Distracted by a civil war the English countryside is tormented by an unscrupulous man, who has been going from village to village and exterminating those that he has branded as witches.
Witchfinder General was directed by Michael Reeves, who would die tragically from a drug overdose just a few years after completing the film at the very young age of 25. In his all too brief career Michael Reeves would also direct The She Beast (1966) and The Sorcerers (1967). The screenplay for Witchfinder General was adapted from Ronald Bassett’s novel of the same name. Being that Witchfinder General was a co-production with AIP (American International Pictures) it is not surprising that the film’s alternate title of The Conqueror Worm was used for the film’s U.S. release, since AIP had already at that point produced a slew of Edgar Allen Poe inspired films. The cinematographer on Witchfinder General was John Coquillon, who’s other notable films as a cinematographer include Curse of the Crimson Altar, Straw Dogs, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and The Oblong Box (a film that Michael Reeves was originally slated to direct).
In lesser hands this film would be nothing more than your standard exploitation yarn about witchcraft. Instead what immerges is a thought provoking look into the darkest sides of humanity. Narrative wise the film quickly sets the mood with an opening lynching of a witch. After this scene there is some very brief set up involving a civil war and a lover story with the daughter of a priest and a soldier. Thankfully both of these things are primarily kept on the back-burner. With the scenes revolving around the Mathew Hopkins character (aka the witchfinder general).
Content wise there are many elements in this film that one would associate with the horror film genre and yet to merely classify this film as a horror film would be doing it a great disservice. Nowhere is this more evident than in the violence that is depicted in this film is unflinching and often gruesome.
Another area in which this film excels are the performances from its entire cast, especially Vincent Price (The Last Man on Earth), who gives his most restrained performance of his career. Reportedly Vincent Price and the films director Michael Reeves disagreed on how Price should portray Mathew Hopkins. Reeves insisted that Price performance should be more detached and not like the usual hamming it up performances that he is most known for. Another performance of note is Hilary Dwyer (The Oblong Box) in the role of Sara Lowes, this films only fleshed out female character. With the film’s finale, in which her character is being tortured by Matthew Hopkins being this films most horrific moment.
Though the breath of his cinematic cannon is limited to three films. The distance in which Michael Reeves traversed as a filmmaker is truly astounding. And while it is undeniable that Witchfinder General is his crowning achievement as a filmmaker. Knowing that this was cinematic swan song only further reinforces how great of a loss his death was to the world of cinema.
Witchfinder General comes on a 25 GB single layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive anamorphic widescreen. The image looks very good throughout with no problems with compression and DNR is kept in check.
This release comes with one audio option, a Dolby Digital Mono mix in English. The audio like the image is in great shape as dialog is always clear and everything sound balanced.
Extras for this release include a trailer for the film (2 minutes 29 seconds -anamorphic widescreen, SD PAL), a stills gallery, alternate opening and closing credits (6 minutes 24 seconds -anamorphic widescreen, HD 1080P), alternate scenes from export version (5 minutes 8 seconds -anamorphic widescreen, SD PAL), a interview with Vincent Price from the British T.V. show Aspel & Company (10 minutes 8 seconds -anamorphic widescreen, SD PAL), a short film also directed by Michael Reeves titled ‘Intrusions’ (10 minutes 25 seconds – 4:3 full frame, SD PAL) that also comes with an optional audio commentary track with Benjamin Halligan and Michael Armstrong (filmmaker – Mark of the Devil), a career retrospective featurette for Michael Reeves titled ‘The Blood Beast: The Films of Michael Reeves’ (23 minutes 50 seconds -anamorphic widescreen, SD PAL), a featurette about witchcraft titled ‘Bloody Crimes: Witchcraft’ (23 minutes 39 seconds -anamorphic widescreen, SD PAL) and a feature length audio commentary with Benjamin Halligan (an author who wrote a book about the films of Michael Reeves) and Michael Armstrong, There is a wide array of extra content that comes with this release with the interview with Vincent Price and the career retrospective for Michael Reeves being the stand out extras. Not to be overlooked is the informative audio commentary track in which both participants do a superb job dissecting this film and discussing the films of Michael Reeves. It should be noted that some of the extras are exclusive to the BluRay release and thus not included as part of Odeon Entertainment’s DVD release. The extras that are exclusive to the BluRay release are as follows, alternate opening and closing credits, alternate scenes from export version, Vincent Price’s interview from the British T.V. show Aspel & Company, the featurette about witchcraft and the feature length audio commentary with Benjamin Halligan and Michael Armstrong. Overall Witchfinder General Odeon Entertainment’s first foray into Hi Def is a strong release that is further bolstered by a wealth of extra content.
Note: Odeon Entertainment are also releasing Witchfinder General on DVD.