Witchfinder General, directed by Michael Reeves, occupies a unique place in British cinema, praised and vilified in equal measure.
The 1968 production tells a fictionalised version of the exploits of Matthew Hopkins, a prolific, real-life witch hunter during the English Civil War. For critic Mark Kermode it is "the single most significant horror film produced in the UK in the 1960s", while for playwright Alan Bennett it was "the most persistently sadistic and rotten film I've ever seen".
The film steadily gained a cult reputation, not hampered by the death of director Reeves, aged just 25, months after the film's release. Hailed as a landmark feature, it remains problematic, existing in a number of versions, variously recut, retitled and rescored.
This in-depth study examines Witchfinder General as a horror, a British film and an example of heritage cinema. There is also consideration given to the historical figure of Hopkins, the source novel by Ronald Bassett and the iconic persona of the film's star, Vincent Price. There are a number of close textual analyses of specific scenes and an exploration of the various contexts that inform the film, from the creation of the X certificate and the tradition of Hammer Gothics, to its ongoing influence on the likes of Ken Russell s The Devils (1971) through to the torture porn trend of twenty-first century horror cinema.