Witchfinder General, directed by Michael Reeves, occupies a unique place in British cinema, praised and vilified in equal measure. This 1968 production tells a fictionalised version of the exploits of Matthew Hopkins, a prolific, real-life witch hunter during the English Civil War. For critic Mark Kermode it is the single most significant horror film produced in the UK in the 1960s while for playwright Alan Bennett it was ‘the most persistently sadistic and rotten film I’ve ever seen’. It steadily gained a cult reputation, not hampered by the death of director Reeves, aged just 25, months after the film s release. Hailed as a landmark film, it remains problematic, existing in a number of versions, variously recut, retitled and rescored.
This in-depth study examines Witchfinder General as a horror film, a British film and an example of heritage cinema. There is also consideration given to the historical figure of Hopkins, the source novel by Ronald Bassett and the iconic persona of the film s star, Vincent Price. There are a number of close textual analyses of specific scenes and an exploration of the various contexts that inform the film, from the creation of the X certificate and the tradition of Hammer Gothics, to its on-going influence on the likes of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) through to the torture porn trend of twenty-first century horror cinema.
£9.99 112pp ISBN: 978-1-906733-51-3 2011
“I enjoyed it very much; it sets out all the various influences, both before and after the film, and indeed the essence of the film itself, very well indeed. It’s great to see the film celebrated and dissected at such length.” Jonathan Rigby, author of English Gothic
“The Devil s Advocates series turns its penetrating gaze to Witchfinder General undoubtedly one of the most interesting horror films of the 1960s. Writer Ian Cooper’s evaluations and investigations are thorough and engaging. (4****)” The List.co.uk
“Excellent and comprehensive.” Folk Horror Review
“… short of including a script, Cooper is very good when dealing with the making of the film, its variant editions, and its critical reception… [makes] a convincing case for placing the film in the heritage film (or costume drama) genre in the years before Merchant Ivory arrived and gave it an unnatural polish.” The British Fantasy Society
“Auteur Publishing’s new Devil’s Advocates critiques on individual titles (Let the Right One In by Anne Billson and Witchfinder General by Ian Cooper, both £9.99) offer bracingly fresh perspectives from passionate writers. The series will perfectly complement the BFI archive volumes.” Christopher Fowler, Independent on Sunday
“Devotee author Ian Cooper probes the 1968 chiller’s background and influences, considering whether the film’s ‘nihilistic despair’ can be linked to the death of its troubled director, Michael Reeves. A promising start to Auteur’s [Devil’s Advocates] monographs.” Total Film