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MGM Studios DVD presents
Witchfinder General (1968)

"I will find out the truth for you. Have no fear."
- Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: October 25, 2007

Stars: Vincent Price
Other Stars: Ian Ogilvy, Hilary Dwyer, Robert Russell, Rupert Davies, Wilfred Brambell, Nicky Henson, Morris Jar, Maggie Kimberly, Patrick Wymark, Bernard Kay
Director: Michael Reeves

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:26m:43s
Release Date: September 11, 2007
UPC: 027616087652
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B+ A-

DVD Review

With a very layered and storied history, Michael Reeves' British horror classic Witchfinder General—with Vincent Price as a fear mongering judge/jury/executioner in 1600s England—has finally found its way to R1 DVD, beautifully restored to its original glory. Based loosely on the real-life exploits of infamous "witch finder" Matthew Hopkins, this one has Price in one of his darkest roles, yet easily one of his most memorable.

But the history of the film itself is almost just as intriguing, making this DVD release even more important. Reeves was something of wunderkind, a young director with great promise who was dead at 25 from a drug overdose not long after the release of this title, his third major film. Reeves' displeaure with a studio demand for Price in the lead—he wanted Donald Pleasence—started the project out on the wrong foot, though looking back now it is difficult to imagine anyone but Price in the role. Released theatrically in 1968, Witchfinder General was confusingly issued as The Conquerer Worm in the U.S. in a feeble attempt to link the picture to The Fall Of The House Of Usher and Masque Of The Red Death, a pair of Edgar Alan Poe films also done by Price.

The fact that the story had nothing to do with Poe mattered little to those in charge, further hacking Reeves' work by bookending an opening and closing Price voiceover with the actor reading from Poe in a weak stab to make it work thematically. The film then bounced around with a number of different cuts over the years, some minus a little of the original violence, others inserting gratuitous nudity, until another injustice occurred in the 1980s when a home video release replaced the original Paul Ferris music (which at the time had somehow slipped out of copyright) with a dreadful synth score, which never came close to matching the mood of the locale of the story: 1645 England.

20th Century Fox has done fans of this oft-mangled historical horror film a great service, issuing it finally with Ferris' dramatic score reinstated, as well as the original title cards. Gone is the awful voiceover, gone is the tacked on nudity, and in its place we finally have the definitive release of Reeves' final work, a genuinely grim tale of fear and power colliding across the English countryside as Price's sadistic and cruel Matthew Hopkins travels from town to town, rooting out those he deems witches, and killing them for a hefty fee. Hopkins becomes an eventual target for Ian Ogilvy, here playing a noble soldier who is seeking vengeance for some unpleasantries committed upon his fiancee, and by the time it comes for retribution the payoff is as violent as it is bleak.

Witchfinder General has been labeled a horror film, though by all standards there are no traditional elements of the genre here. But it is a fairly dark story, with Price's Hopkins playing God by deciding who lives or dies, especially if the price is right. His performance is what has likely in large part given this title its longevity, as he channels great menace and evil with ease, something that Reeves' showcases well here.

With this single disc DVD release (also available as part of the Vincent Price Scream Legends set), Witchfinder General gets it proper due nearly 40 years after its original release.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: High marks for the restored 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, with just a modicum of infrequent light specking. Colors and fleshtones look warm and natural, with the reds of Ogilvy's military uniform particularly resplendent. Some minor issues with a couple of the day-for-night shots appearing a bit too dark, but overall a smart marriage of a transfer that brings together elements from the U.S. and British versions seamlessly.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The film's original English mono is the sole audio track. Clean and hiss-free, with voices clear and well-balanced, there isn't really anything to find fault with.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Steve Haberman, Philip Waddilove, Ian Ogilvy
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Producer Philip Waddilove and actor Ian Ogilvy deliver a wonderfully informative commentary track, moderated by writer Steve Haberman. Covering a number of topics, from the original novel to locations, as well as the development of the somewhat controversial ending, Waddilove and Ogilvy are gently prodded by Haberman to produce a set of fascinating remembrances. As with his comments on And Now The Screaming Starts..., Ogilvy proves himself to really enjoy the process of looking back on the project, providing a wealth of background info, some of it even more inside due to his close friendship with director Michael Reeves. Waddilove's contributions are just as worthwhile, offering some surprisingly comical anecdotes and engaging production info.

Witchfinder General: Michael Reeves' Horror Classic (25m:01s) is new mini-doc that looks not only at the film's wobbly history, but at director Reeves, as well. Those looking for a compact rendition of the various pitfalls that befell this title will find much to like here, and the quirky assortment of speakers prevent this one from being just a dull history lesson.

The disc is cut into 24 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French or Spanish

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

One of the great 1960s historical/horror titles finally gets released with all its parts intact as director Michael Reeves intended, here paired with a fascinating commentary track and 25-minute documentary.

Highly recommended.

 


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