One of my favorite actor/director exchanges took place during the making of Witchfinder General (1968). The director, 24-year-old Michael Reeves, and veteran horror icon Vincent Price, repeatedly clashed on set. At one point an exasperated Price snarled, "I've made 87 films. What have you done?" To which Reeves replied, "I've made three good ones."*
As it's never before been released on DVD until now, I myself have not seen all of Witchfinder General in its entirety, except for a truncated, commercially-interrupted version showing on AMC some years back at Halloween. It was so long ago, in fact, that I used an honest-to-god VCR to record it, messed up the time setting, and got all of it but the last 15 minutes. That's how they get you. Actually right now I have it DVR'd from a showing on TCM when Rob Zombie showed it as part of his Underground series under the American retitling by its distributors, Conqueror Worm, after the name of a Poe poem to try and fool people thinking it was a continuation of the Price/Poe series of movies directed by Roger Corman. Ah, gotta love those exploitation filmmakers. I'm waiting for the DVD version, since it will continue in that long-hallowed tradition of movie-making, the uncut director's version, since it was edited into various forms by both UK and US censors of the day.
Based on the real-life witch hunter Matthew Hopkins the film has a reputation as being a grim and realistic historical horror film, with Price eschewing his usual acting campy turn at the request of director Reeves. Despite their production hostilities, Price came to regard his performance in the film as one of his best, while sadly, Reeves overdosed on alcohol and antidepressants not long after the film was completed, leaving behind a small batch of films in which he worked with such industry and genre giants as Donald Sutherland, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, and Barbara Steele. There's a retrospective of Reeves and his work at the amazing Horrorwood site. Check it out, then set your Netflix queue accordingly!
*As told in Kim Newman's masterly 1988 study of horror film, Nightmare Movies.
Coming September 2017: Paperbacks from Hell!
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