gratuitous sadismGratuitous Violence was the Guardian newspaper’s opinion of this movie, which has taken on a cult status over the years and is, these days, rightly considered a classic of the genre. In my opinion the movie also features Vincent Price’s best ever performance.

A sadistic extravagance, The Sunday Telegraph

Set in 1645 with the English Civil War tearing the country apart Mathew Hopkins, the son of a Suffolk minister, rides the countryside seeking out witches and hanging, burning or mutilating them. The character comes from fact – at a time when the weekly wage was six old pence a day, Hopkins could earn around £20 each time he visited a village and freed them of the supposed witches in their midst. It is reported that Hopkins earned more than £1000 during his short career. He killed more accused witches in fourteen months than all the other witch hunters had killed in the previous 160 years.

The film’s shooting was troubled -Young director Michael Reeves hated having Vincent Price for the lead role – he wanted Donald Pleasance but the money men insisted on Price. Reeves considered Price a joke and wasn’t afraid to tell him. Right from their first meeting the director didn’t bother to disguise his hostility to the American actor. Filming started in Autumn in Suffolk – from the off the actor and director were at each other’s throats.

It didn’t help that Price thought he was making another cheap shocker, something that would flash briefly and then be forgotten but the director had grander ideas, and he mocked Price’s performance in front of the entire cast and crew. Price was furious and initially decided to walk off set but a reputed conversation with co-star Ian Oglivy led to the veteran actor changing his mind. Vincent Price never managed to strike up a friendly relationship with his director, but through his own anger he turned in a performance that was absolutely excellent and it is he and not the style of the director that dominated the movie.

Price thought he was  making a genre picture, while Reeves claimed he was making a film about people caught up in extraordinary times.

“He didn’t want me at all for the part. I didn’t like him, either.” Price wrote years later. ” It was one of the first times in my life that I’ve been in a picture where the director and I just clashed.”

Director Michael Reeves displayed an assured grasp of technique and a confident ability to mix and match genres that marked him out as a homegrown wunderkind to rival the Spielbergs and Coppolas who were just graduating from film school. However, this promise remained unfulfilled as Reeves died suddenly, soon after completing the film, from a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs; Witchfinder General remains his only significant work.The US title

In the US the film was released under the title, Edgar Allan Poe’s, The Conqueror Worm to cash in on the recent Poe movies – that was a prologue and epilogue narration, quoting the Poe poem of the same name to justify the title change.

There are several DVD versions on the movie available, but there has yet to be a definitive version – if ever a movie demanded a DVD bursting with extra features it is this one. Sadly the only editions available at present are void of any extras.

Last  year BBC Radio 4 broadcast a play based on the making of this movie- I missed it, indeed wasn’t aware of it but thanks to a very good friend (thanks John) who recorded it, I got to listen to this truly stunning radio play.
Anyone interested in this movie should seek out the play, Vincent Price and the Bloodbeast Terror – not currently available the BBC are said to be considering a release as a digital download. Fans can ensure this by emaling the BBC on the subject.

‘I’ve made seventy five films. How many have you made?’ Price asks the director, in one telling scene from the play.

‘Two,’ comes the reply and then the director adds: ‘GOOD ONES.’

Find the movie trailer on You Tube HERE


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