Witchfinder General; or This Really is What East Anglia is Like

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Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Witchy Wednesdays, where the brews are bubbling and the spells are casting! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they argue about which one should be searched for the Devil’s mark first–joking, Andy’s a gentleman, it’s ladies first!

Today’s film offering: Witchfinder General (also known as The Conqueror Worm)

Lilly: What’s a series of witch films without one that mentions Matthew Hopkins? Self-proclaimed Witchfinder General, he went around England during the civil war, taking his show of ‘Witch or No Witch?’ on the road. A slimy individual, he was responsible for the deaths of 300 women in the span of two years, and that’s…terrifying.

Andy: Yeah, he’s one of the most deeply unpleasant individuals in English history, up there with contemporary puritan bastard Oliver Cromwell. And they’re both from my neck of the woods. Lovely!

Lilly: And then they up and cast Vincent Price as him in the film! As if he needed help being creepy!

Witchfinder General is the tale of a young soldier and his lady love who happen to get tangled up in the mess that is Hopkins’ reign of terror across England. It involves all the tried and true methods of finding witches (save the old ‘compare their weight to a duck’ trick), from pricking to see if moles are the Devil’s mark to the whole drown-and-you-are-innocent, float-and-you-get-back-here-and-hang-you-witch trial and terror.

Andy: As for the movie, we slot it into a sub-genre of ‘pastoral horror’, along with critical darling The Wicker Man, and Hallowfest favourite Blood on Satan’s Claw. Seriously, I think it might be our favourite joint movie. The former brings a wonderful, cultish weirdness and the latter brings forth the kind of feelings in us that are usually in bad love songs, what does this one bring to the table?

Well, for starters it is one of the most relentlessly unpleasant and nasty films we’ve reviewed. Somehow managing to get a commercial release in 1968, it features torture, mostly of women, truly despicable villains, and a sinking sense that even the most optimistic ending after a certain point is always going to be pretty bleak. Anyone who saw Vincent Price in his earlier AIP films is in for a hell of a shock.

Lilly: Not to mention those of us who were introduced to Vincent via The Muppet Show!

We actually managed to watch a Director’s Cut of this film, featuring scenes cut out at the time the film was released in cinemas. It had the incredibly troubling and scary introductory text of:

At the time of its original release the BBFC decided that certain scenes should be trimmed to comply with rules on the depiction of violence. In these more enlightened times we have been able to reinstigate these scenes to recreate the original director’s cut.

It goes on to warn us that the quality of the cut scenes would vary from the kept, and so whenever the film went bad, it went bad. But how insane is that second sentence? ‘In these more enlightened times’? What, in these times where we can take seeing a woman with her face beat in, or her back pricked deeply with a needle? What! How is that enlightened! I think the word you’re looking for, weird opening title card, is ‘desensitized’.

Andy: Yeah, this is definitely one that we’re not exactly going to decry, but aren’t going to recommend, either.

Lilly: I mean. Some films you get through, you know? You make it to the end and feel relief. So, saying ‘go, watch, enjoy!’ seems like it would be almost sarcastic. You aren’t going to enjoy this film, per se. It’s nasty.

Andy: Even Hostel wasn’t this needlessly vindictive.

Lilly: No, seriously, see our reviews of Hostel & Hostel 2–they were messy, but not cruel. Especially due to the fact that they weren’t set in actual historical events. This one, however…Well, let it speak for itself. Go, watch, and….well. Try and sleep at night after?

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