Friday, February 22, 2008

Film #5: The Conqueror Worm a.k.a. Witchfinder General

One of the horror genre’s most criminally overlooked classics is 1968’s The Conqueror Worm. Known in the U.K. as Witchfinder General, this extraordinarily downbeat tale stars Vincent Price as Matthew Hopkins, the real-life henchman for Cromwell in wartorn 17th century England who was assigned to find and prosecute witches hidden within the country’s tiny townships. He’s an intriguing character because, with his obvious intelligence, he should be able to mitigate his dark side with common decency, but Hopkins is so consumed with lust and power that he can’t help but take advantage of the vulnerable, especially in a time where almost everyone was mad with fear and ignorance.

Rest assured, Price plays all this to the hilt in one of his very best non-tongue-in-cheek horror performances. Directed by Michael Reeves, who helmed two other similarly-flavored films (The She-Beast and The Sorcerers) before killing himself in 1969, The Conqueror Worm is disturbingly set in a Hell where all moral boundaries have been erased, and all people are capable of atrocities against even their closest confidants (yikes! that doesn’t sound too different than the world we live in!).

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