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Colyngbourne 30th Jun 2014 11:03

Witchfinder General
Amner, you might have to come and assist here :-D

We watched Witchfinder General the other evening, and found it a very strange experience. It's unusually short, its paint-as-blood is a little amusing and relies on the ability of 1960's women to scream at bloodcurdling pitch for extended periods.

I imagine that it was made in the wake of other films, of which I know very little, fulfilling its horror spec powerfully for the time (scenes of sadistic torture which are quite difficult to watch today, from the back-piercing, to the sink-or-swim witch-proving and the ladder-lowering death by fire). I struggled to get past the dated style of dialogue and highly artificial and stagey fight scenes, but I could see that the filming itself was conveying a sense of the C17th that would be almost "over-authenticised" today. The sets and settings were not over-dressed but gave themselves naturally over to the period: I get the same sense from films like Far From the Madding Crowd, that the countryside filmed is not so far away and long distant from the events portrayed. These days modernity would have its slick hand on and in and under every scene, almost without realising it. Maybe a production team as good as Game of Thrones might manage it.

Lovely to see a young Ian Ogilvy - senior Col daughter had never heard of him before - and a chilling Vincent Price. The C17th is an under-represented era in film - other than A Field in England and court dramas (Restoration, The Libertine, Stage Beauty), there is little to reveal the bleak horror of general life under puritan rule in those times, and in a world where belief could be led by the nose into inhuman horror. [That said, this kind of thing still goes on today....]

Matthew Hopkins is very familiar to me through works of fiction, so it was interesting to see his brand of religious persecution and personal corruption in the flesh, so to speak.... because of the briefness of the plot, perhaps it lost something of the rhetoric that would have accompanied him, the speeches to crowds, the various trials in villages, and Hopkins here lacked the dialogue that would have made his crusade a little more believable.

Post-credits, we discovered that the film was released in the States as The Conqueror Worm (which is pretty hysterical as titles go) with a prologue and epilogue from the eponymous Poe poem, which I am not sure would have improved the entire venture. Is it better that the film closes on that unending scream of Sara or on the sonorous tones of Price? -


Out-out are the lights-out all!/And over each quivering form/The curtain, a funeral pall,/Comes down with the rush of a storm,/While the angels, all pallid and wan,/Uprising, unveiling, affirm/That the play is the tragedy, 'Man,'/And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.

JunkMonkey 30th Jun 2014 16:13

Re: Witchfinder General
Only ***00?

I've never seen the film in its Worm guise but I think it's a great film. It takes the continental film horror tradition (which was much more visceral than the British) and grafted it seamlessly into an utterly English mileau. It's a real pity the director died so young.

Colyngbourne 30th Jun 2014 16:59

Re: Witchfinder General
I think I would have needed to be more in tune with the continental film horror tradition to fully appreciate it, and I think for an audience completely unfamiliar with some of that era's movies, it would come across as laughably dated. 7 out of 10 isn't bad :-)

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