Monday, 27 July 2015

Witchfinder General (1968)

With themes of isolation, helplessness and anarchy, this seemingly silly revenge movie is none-the-less fun and at times unexpectedly stylish.  Vincent Price is the eponymous protagonist and as such is a great dead-pan witch hunter who genuinely believes he is “doing God’s work”.  He never once loses his cool (until he gets an axe buried in him) which adds to the detached way he views human life, apart from his own.

Despite it being a revenge story (a very effective one as the viewer really routes for Richard - Ian Ogivly) involving witch trials, there are many surprisingly well composed shots, and some lovely silhouettes and tree lines.

The very first scene juxtaposes a beautiful hillside shot, peaceful with a silhouetted gallows, with the screaming of an accused witch being dragged to her sentence; nicely edited by Howard Lanning.  The following scene, introducing the Parliamentarian troops is a really nice tracking shot through some lovely forest scenery before the horses trot into view.

There is also a strangely deliberately lit shot as Richard, Sarah and the Priest are having dinner; it's at the same table but all 3 are lit in isolation with complete darkness in between each character.  I'm really not sure what the director/DP were trying to convey, perhaps that the three characters have their own separate stories and it won’t end well; but it certainly looks intentional.

All of this waffle is meant to give the indication that there is more to this film than just a 17th century story about burning witches.  The direction by Michael Reeves (who died within a year of the release of the film) is smart enough to make this an unexpectedly imaginative and inventive film, and actually worth checking out.  But, you know, that's just, like, my opinion man.

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