During the English Civil War, Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) is appointed "Witchfinder General" by the Puritans under Cromwell and empowered to travel the countryside with his henchman, Stearne (Robert Russell), collecting a fee for each witch from whom he extracts a confession. They ride
into one town where the village priest, Lowes (Rupert Davies), is accused. They proceed to torture him by driving steel spikes into his flesh, looking for "the devil's mark." Sara (Hilary Dwyer), Lowes's niece, offers herself to the pair, but Stearne just rapes her and hangs her uncle anyway.
Marshall (Ian Ogilvy), her fiance, a soldier with the Royalists, has sworn to protect her, and when he learns what has happened he leaves the army to hunt down Hopkins and Stearne. This masterful study in terror was directed by Michael Reeves, who made just three films before killing himself in
1969 at age 25. (Various reports cite an overdose of pills, a car crash, and a fall from a window as the means.) Reeves's films, THE SHE-BEAST; THE SORCERERS; and THE CONQUEROR WORM--the best of the three--all show a thoroughly depressing world in which evil runs rampant and corrupts the heroes
who fight it. The performances are all quite good, with Price giving one of his finest portrayals as an intelligent, civilized madman in a place and time that encourage him to act out his darkest impulses. There was a real Matthew Hopkins, Cromwell's Witchfinder General, who, with his assistant
Stearne, killed some 200 alleged witches in 1645-46 before he retired to write his memoirs. He died in bed the following year. This profoundly disturbing film was played on the American market as just another entry in AIP's Vincent Price-Edgar Allan Poe series (like THE RAVEN or THE PIT AND THE
PENDULUM), with Price reading Poe's poem "The Conqueror Worm" over the opening and closing titles.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: During the English Civil War, Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) is appointed "Witchfinder General" by the Puritans under Cromwell and empowered to travel the countryside with his henchman, Stearne (Robert Russell), collecting a fee for each witch from whom h… (more)