Also known as: The Conqueror Worm (theatrical title), Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General (UK complete title), Matthew Hopkins: Conqueror Worm (US complete title), Edgar Allan Poe’s The Conqueror Worm (US promotional title)
Release Date: May 15th, 1968 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Michael Reeves
Written by: Tom Baker, Michael Reeves, Louis M. Heyward
Based on: Witchfinder General by Ronald Bassett
Music by: Paul Ferris
Cast: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Wilfrid Brambell, Patrick Wymark, Robert Russell, Nicky Henson, Hilary Dwyer
Tigon British Film Productions, American International Pictures, 86 Minutes
“Men sometimes have strange motives for the things they do.” – Matthew Hopkins
I always get Witchfinder General a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm and Cry of the Banshee mixed up in my head. They both star Vincent Price in a very similar role, deal with the same subject matter and came out around the same time.
This is the superior of the two films and it boasts one of Price’s greatest performances. It’s also more grounded than 1970’s Cry of the Banshee, which honestly feels like it was made just to piggyback off of this film’s momentum.
The story, here, follows Matthew Hopkins, a famous (or infamous) witch-hunter. It shows his corruption, how he uses his power to rule over those who fear him and what lengths he’s willing to go to essentially prove that he is the ruler of his own domain.
For those who don’t know, Hopkins was a real historical figure and with that, this film had a bit more chutzpah to it than Cry of the Banshee. There was something really sinister about the fact that this was a real guy. Sure, this was glamorized and took some liberties, as it’s a film that had to up the ante and lean into the horror bits, but from what I’ve read about the guy, none of this really seems out of character and in fact, Price’s portrayal of the character may have been tame by comparison. I mean, in just the three years that Hopkins claimed to be the “Witchfinder General”, he killed more suspected witches than his contemporaries did in the previous 100 years.
This is a fairly compelling film, even if it is a bit slow. But even with its apparent faults, Price’s performance is damn convincing and truly elevates what would’ve been a mundane picture, otherwise.