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England is torn in civil strife as the Royalists battle the Parliamentary Party for control. This conflict distracts people from rational thought and allows unscrupulous men to gain local power by exploiting village superstitions. One of these men is Matthew Hopkins, who tours the land 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. When Hopkins persecutes a priest, he incurs the wrath of Richard Marshall, who is engaged to the priest's niece. Risking treason by leaving his military duties, Marshall relentlessly pursues the evil Hopkins and his minion Stearne. Written by
Ed Sutton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Real flintlock pistols of that period were useless at beyond point blank range and yet, in this film, people are shot at 50 metres or more. See more »
[United States Conqueror Worm versions]
LO! 't is a gala night/Within the lonesome latter years./An angel throng, bewinged, bedight/In veils, and drowned in tears,/Sit in a theatre to see/A play of hopes and fears,/While the orchestra breathes fitfully/The music of the spheres."
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Shocking and impacting an average narrative but a great central theme, strong direction and strong performances
With England in a civil war, Captain Richard Marshall is just one of many soldiers earning his money killing the Royalist rebels. Home from service briefly, Marshall stays with a priest and his wife-to-be Sarah Lowes but soon heads off. On his way out of the area he meets lawyer Matthew Hopkins, who has been called in by locals to help with some matters. Thinking nothing Marshall rides on having directed Hopkins correctly but only later he learns that Hopkins is more a witch-hunter than a lawyer and that the very "devil" that he has gone to town to unmask is none other than Lowes.
Although I was familiar with the title I had neither heard anything good or bad about this film or ever managed to see it myself. With a recent screening on late night television in the UK I decided to give it a twirl and found much to like from the very opening credits where a hung woman gives way to a title credits sequence of wonderfully captured faces in various states of pain and/or terror. The imaginative air to these visuals continues even as the film settles down to deliver the story and the whole affair has a great colour and hue to it, using some visual effects to improve some shots. Reeves (who, at 23, probably never expected this to be his last film) uses the English countryside to great effect and summons up a great sense of period as well as contrasting it powerfully with the fear and violence of Hopkins' deeds.
The plot threatens to be a poor device to show this history in gory detail but generally it works well enough because it makes the characters and the actions as important as the specific story involving Marshall. This moves along well but generally it is Hopkins and his quest that holds the interest because it is essentially evil and cruel factors that the film brings out very well while observing the slight touch of glee from Hopkins that accompanies the cruel deaths. This is greatly helped by a superbly cruel turn from Price who dominates the film and makes his scenes the best. Ogilvy has a lesser role but is still very good despite not having the material given to Price. Support from Russell, Heath and others is mostly good apart from one or two bum notes in small areas the victims are convincing which was important to make the horrors convincing.
Overall an impacting little film that has a basic plot but greatly benefits from the cruelty of the piece, strong direction and good performances led by a great Price. Dated a touch but still quite shocking, interesting and worth seeing.
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