In Elizabethan England, a wicked lord massacres nearly all the members of a coven of witches, earning the enmity of their leader, Oona. Oona calls up a magical servant, a "banshee", to ... See full summary »
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>
The interiors were filmed in two specially converted aircraft hangars near Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, which were leased for £1,500; this cost-measure resulted in much of the dialogue having to be re-recorded later, because the tin roofs of the hangars caused an echo. The exterior shots range from the Dunwich coast (for the scene with the fisherman) to Langley Park outside London (for the scene where Stearne escapes capture). The tracking shot of the ambush after the opening credits was filmed at Black Park in southeast Buckinghamshire, a location frequently used by Hammer Film Productions. Lavenham Square (in Lavenham, Suffolk), site of the witch-burning scene, was the real Lavenham Market Square; the crew lowered TV antennas and telephone wires and producer Philip Waddilove hired a cherry picker from a local utility company for £10, because the unit couldn't afford a camera crane. The countryside vistas seen in the chase scenes on horseback were shot on the Stanford Battle Area near Thetford, Norfolk--the producer, through connections with the government, was able to lease parts of the area. The church used in the film is St. John The Evangelist in Rushford in Norfolk. The moat drowning and hanging scenes were filmed at Kentwell Hall, in Long Melford. The climax of the film was shot at Orford Castle, on the coast of East Anglia, which is an English Heritage property. Filming wrapped as scheduled on 13 November 1967. The production went relatively smoothly, except for the unrelentingly antagonistic relationship that developed between director Michael Reeves and Vincent Price. Reeves kept it no secret from everyone associated with the production that the American actor was not his choice for the role, and the director's comments had reached the actor back in the US. Reeves refused Price the courtesy of meeting him at London's Heathrow Airport when he arrived in England, a "deliberate snub calculated to offend both Price and AIP". "Take me to your goddamn young genius," Price reportedly said to co-producer Philip Waddilove, who greeted the actor at the airport instead of Reeves. When Price went on location and met Reeves for the first time, the young director told the actor, "I didn't want you, and I still don't want you, but I'm stuck with you!". According to Kim Newman in his book "Nightmare Movies", when Reeves made a suggestion on the set, Price objected and told the director, "I've made 87 films. What have you done?" And Reeves responded, "I've made three good ones". Price later recalled, "Reeves hated me . . . He didn't want me at all for the part. I didn't like him, either. It was one of the first times in my life that I've been in a picture where the director and I just clashed." Price felt that all the actors on the set had a difficult time with the director, explaining: "Michael Reeves could not communicate with actors. He would stop me and say, 'Don't move your head like that.' And I would say, 'Like what? What do you mean?' He'd say, 'There--you're doing it again. Don't do that'." Price reportedly became so upset with Reeves that he refused to watch the film's dailies. See more »
Historical evidence shows that in real life Matthew Hopkins was probably not older than 25 years old when he died. 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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The USA version, titled The Conqueror Worm, as well as having the reference to the Poe poem, replaces the film's original score by with a different (although similar) score by . UK prints under the title Witchfinder General have the correct original Ferris score. See more »
Probably not as gruesome as the real thing, but gruesome enough.
Matthew Hopkins was a self proclaimed Witchfinder who started his career in 1644 in Essex, England. In a three year career he is estimated to have killed between 200 and 400 "witches". The Witchfinder General (The Conqueror Worm) is a movie based on his success as a prosecutor of witches.
Witchfinder General is an interesting movie in that it is part horror, part melodrama, part historical epic. Vincent Price has one of his finest and most effective roles ever as Matthew Hopkins in this 1968 British Classic. The movie was renamed The Conqueror Worm for U.S. audiences to try and take advantage of Price's fame from Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe inspired series of movies. Except for reading part of the poem The Conqueror Worm during the ending credits, the movie has nothing to do with Poe.
The basic story is common enough for this sub-genre of horror movies: There is an abusive official who accuses and prosecutes alleged witches for his own personal gain and personal power trips. There are two other fine British films from this time period that deal with the same subject matter, The Devils by Kurt Russell and Mark of the Devil starring Herbert Lom. All three are well made and effective, but Witchfinder General is the darkest of the bunch. The tortures are all brutal and unnerving to watch and there is a lot of screaming in this movie. Price plays Hopkins as overbearing and cold bloodedly cruel. He allows a woman to submit to him sexually to prevent someone from being killed, then tortures and murders the guy anyway, and then later has her tortured and murdered for being a witch. What a guy!
The director of this movie was the young and upcoming Michael Reeves who unfortunately committed suicide in 1969, not long after this movie was released. There was a well known feud of sorts between Reeves and the star, Vincent Price. At one point Price is reputed to have said to the 25 year old director: "I have made over 70 films, what have you done?" with a reply from Reeves: "I have made three good ones". Perhaps the tension between director and star helped to make this the dark and humorless film that it is. Even 34 years after it's release, it still holds up as a beautifully made movie that hardly looks of feels dated at all. The period movies that Price was making with Roger Corman a few years before this film was made, while still excellent in many respects, are obviously a product of the 60's.
Unfortunately this movie has not been released in the U.S. on dvd. There is a British release that includes a documentary on Michael Reeves, but for now in America all we have is the MGM midnight movie video release. This film also appears on AMC now and again, and in fact, I just watched it on that channel yesterday.
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