Film Review: Witchfinder General (1968)

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

Review:

“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.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

Also known as: The Crimson Cult (US)
Release Date: December, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Vernon Sewell
Written by: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln
Music by: Peter Knight
Cast: Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele, Mark Eden, Michael Gough, Rupert Davies

Tigon Films, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like a house from one of those old horror films.” – Eve Morley, “It’s like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment.” – Robert Manning

The only thing that this movie really has going for it is its great cast of horror legends. It boasts the talents of Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Barbara Steele. It also features Michael Gough, most famous to American audiences as Alfred from the Tim Burton Batman films. Rupert Davies even pops up in a small role.

I also have to give props to John Coquillon’s cinematography. His use of vivid and colorful lighting was effective, as were the sets and the colorful costumes he captured and brought to life. The film, in its best visual parts, looks like living art.

Unfortunately, the story is weak and there isn’t much of anything that is surprising. Barbara Steele often times distracts from the frail and inadequate script with her alluring beauty and her piercing gaze but even with the help from Karloff and Lee, the film is still pretty flat and uninteresting.

However, anytime that you can see legends like this come together, it is an affair worth checking out. I always like seeing Michael Gough in old British horror flicks too, considering how good he was for Hammer Studios in Horror of Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera.

Karloff and Lee look like they were having fun working together but neither of them gave anything close to their greatest performances. Barbara Steele was really good but she just didn’t have a lot to do and her character was fairly one dimensional. She looked stunning in her body paint and costume and really embodied the part of the demigod witch that she was supposed to be.

The main characters of the film were Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherell but they were completely overshadowed by the legends packed into this picture. They still did decent with the material. Wetherell was very pretty and had a great body, which is obviously why she was selected to play the Stage Actress in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Curse of the Crimson Altar is just average. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just exists. The positives are cancelled out by the negatives but at least the stars make it a worthwhile experience for those who are fans of their work.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Oblong Box (1969)

Release Date: June 11th, 1969 (USA)
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Lawrence Huntington, Christopher Wicking
Based on: The Oblong Box by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Harry Robinson
Cast: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Uta Levka, Sally Geeson, Alister Williamson, Peter Arne, Hilary Dwyer

American International Pictures, 96 Minutes (USA), 91 Minutes (UK)

the-oblong-boxReview:

Horror legends Vincent Price and Christopher Lee worked together several times. But there is always a first time for everything and The Oblong Box is the first time that they got to be in the same picture.

The credits state that this is based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of the same name but it really isn’t. The only thing similar between the two is the title and the fact that it refers to a coffin.

The Oblong Box starts with a man being tortured in an African village. Vincent Price’s Sir Julian Markham walks in to discover this. The man being tortured and disfigured by the villagers is his brother Sir Edward. As the plot progresses, the brothers return to England where Julian has Edward locked up in the attic due to his disfigurement and change in temperament. Edward with help from a shady lawyer, fakes his own death, in an effort to be free of his chains. Mistakes happen and Julian accidentally has his brother buried alive. Edward is then unearthed by grave robbers and finds himself in the home of Dr. Newhartt, played by Christopher Lee. Edward blackmails Newhartt into letting him live in his house, as he goes out at night to seek justice for how he was wronged. There are twists and turns and overall, the plot is interesting and engaging.

While fitting the mold of Price’s other Poe-inspired horror films of the 1960s, The Oblong Box is also a slasher film before slasher films were even a thing. Edward covers his face with a crimson mask and uses his knife to slash his way to the justice he seeks.

Both Vincent Price and Christopher Lee are top notch in this movie. Unfortunately, Price and Lee barely share any screen time. This would be rectified in later films, however. Lee does well in the role as the morally questionable Dr. Newhartt, while Price’s Julian is a character you grow to care about. A favorite actor of mine, Rupert Davies was enjoyable as Kemp. I also really loved Harry Baird’s performance as the witch doctor N’Galo.

The theme of the film was controversial, at the time, and it led to it being banned in Texas. It explored the relationship between Europeans and native Africans. More accurately, it showed the exploitation of the African people by white men. All the horror that befalls the European characters in the film is really just the consequences of their mistreatment of the African villagers.

The Oblong Box isn’t as well-known as other Price and Lee films but it is certainly one of the better ones. It feels real and isn’t as over-the-top as some of the other Poe films of the day.

The only negative about the picture is some of the special effects. The reveal of Sir Edward’s face at the end is pretty disappointing. Also, his throat slashing was pretty awful. When he cut people’s necks, it looked like he was just drawing a line with lipstick. Also, the scene where a man gets bashed over the head had some of the worst blood I’ve seen. It literally had the color and consistency of ketchup.

The bad effects don’t really distract from the picture, however. It is a pretty solid film and maybe deserves a bit more recognition than it has.

Rating: 7/10