Witchfinder General (Blu-ray) (1968)

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Released 1-Apr-2015

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Cinema Cult Trailers x 5
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1968
Running Time 86:50 (Case: 88)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Michael Reeves
Studio
Distributor
Tigon British
Shock Entertainment
Starring Vincent Price
Ian Ogilvy
Rupert Davies
Wilfrid Brambell
Patrick Wymark
Hilary Dwyer
Robert Russell
Nicky Henson
Tony Selby
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Paul Ferris


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     1645. England is in the midst of a civil war between the King and Parliament; law and order has broken down and local magistrates dispense a form of justice where right and wrong doesn’t matter and old scores are settled. Unscrupulous individuals such as Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price), the Witchfinder General, get rich by preying on the superstitions of villagers to hunt out and execute, after confessions are tortured from the victim, those accused of witchcraft.

     Hopkins and his associate John Stearne (Robert Russell) travel to a village where the local priest, John Lowes (Rupert Davies), has been accused of being a Satanist. Lowes is a broadminded and kindly man who lives with his niece Sara (Hilary Dwyer), the fiancé of Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), a Parliamentary soldier away on campaign. Lowes is tortured by Stearne but Hopkins is attracted to Sara; in return for sexual favours from a reluctant Sara, Hopkins promises to spare Lowes and has him imprisoned. But later he changes his mind; Lowes and two females are executed, Stearne rapes Sara and the Witchfinder General and his associates move on to other towns, other magistrates paying silver to be rid of alleged witches. Marshall finds out what happened to Sara and her uncle when he is in the army on the eve of a battle, but as soon as an opportunity presents he goes after Hopkins and Stearne to take revenge. But they have been warned and decide on counter measures, leading to a brutal and bloody climax.

     Witchfinder General (the film’s title card is Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General while the film was recut, a new score added and called The Conqueror Worm in the US) is a low budget film directed by the 24 year old Michael Reeves who suffered from depression and insomnia and who died in 1969 of an accidental overdose of barbiturates mixed with alcohol. He was certainly an interesting talent and Witchfinder General has achieved deserved cult status; it is well directed without too many distracting flourishes, features some intense, yet not over the top, torture and has Vincent Price at the height of his game. Many consider Matthew Hopkins one of Price’s finest performances, and indeed Price plays him subtly and without camp or rancour as a man just in control of his inner demons.

     In the early 1960s Price and producer / director Roger Corman hit box office gold with a succession of films more or less based on Edgar Allan Poe stories commencing with The Fall of the House of Usher in 1960 and finishing with Tomb of Ligeia in 1964. Price, of course, also appeared in a number of horror films for other directors, but to cash in on the Poe connection the American distributors recut Witchfinder General to add a voiceover prologue of Price reading some lines from the Poe poem The Conqueror Worm, renamed the film The Conqueror Worm with Poe’s name above the title and added a new score by Kendall Schmidt. In actual fact, Witchfinder General is based upon a novel by Ronald Bassett; Matthew Hopkins did exist and was responsible for the torture and execution of over 300 alleged witches in East Anglia, although the real Hopkins was only in his 20s, far younger than he is played by Price who was 57, and who died in 1647 of natural causes, I suspect much to the relief of many.

     As well as the US version, Witchfinder General has had various incarnations. Reeves actually filmed two different versions; the “director’s cut” is apparently his preferred version but to appeal to European export markets he refilmed a number of scenes adding female nudity and bare breasts whereas the director’s cut used different, fully clothed, actresses. Details of the differences between the two can be found here. Early releases of Witchfinder General also had cuts to the violence required by the British censor which were later edited back into the film: for information see here. The version of the film on this Blu-ray is the UK director’s cut without nudity, but including the violence.

     Witchfinder General is an atmospheric, well made and interesting film, a good example of 1960s English horror. Vincent Price is excellent and Robert Russell very good; this is a clear case where the villains win, for in comparison Ian Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer are insipid, although Dwyer does scream convincingly. Shot in the East Anglia villages and countryside the film also looks great, the scenes of torture are realistic by 1968 standards and the film’s climax in a dimly lit castle dungeon builds a decent tension which is only lessened by Ogilvy using what is obviously a rubber axe! But the final scene and fade out will remain in the mind.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     Witchfinder General is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, in 1080p using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     This is a nice print considering the age and budget of the film. There are some small marks scattered throughout but none are too noticeable. Detail is good and the colours are deep and rich. Grain is evident, more so in some scenes which are likely to be those that were restored. Blacks are solid and while shadow detail can be hidden I think this is intentional as this can be a very dark film in places. Brightness and contrast are consistent, skin tones natural.

     Some slight ghosting against broken surfaces, such as buildings or the trees, is also evident.

     There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     The audio is English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono, which is the original audio.

     Dialogue is clear and easy to hear and the effects, such as gunshots and galloping horses, do have a nice resonance. The original score, by Paul Ferris, is unusual but suites the horror themes well and is clear. There is no surround or subwoofer use.

     In one quiet scene I noticed a slight distortion, but otherwise there were no issues.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Cinema Cult Trailers

     Trailers for Witchfinder General (2:06), (the American version The Conqueror Worm), Scum (2:21), The Fury (3:02), Fear City (2:43), The Burning (1:27) and City of the Living Dead (3:00).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Blu-ray releases of Witchfinder General are available in Region All UK and Region A US, where the film only seems to be available as part of a Vincent Price collection. Both have a great range of extras including different audio commentaries. For details see here.

     If you are interested only in the film as a standalone, the Region All UK release is the way to go.

Summary

     English horror cult classic from 1968 Witchfinder General makes a welcome appearance on Blu-ray. The film looks good for its age and Vincent Price is excellent. Fans of English horror and / or Vincent Price should not hesitate. Pity about the lack of extras though.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Censorship cuts - wolfgirv REPLY POSTED