Nov 25, 2017

Witchfinder General




If the premature death of Teutonic auteur F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans) was the greatest tragedy of the late-silent/early-sound era, the greatest tragedy of post-WWII British horror cinema was certainly the patently pointless death of young English auteur Michael Reeves at the age of 25 from an accidental alcohol and barbiturate overdose in early 1969. Indeed, before dying in a less the glamorous but somewhat strangely fitting fashion, Reeves changed the face of British and, in turn, European horror cinema with his third feature and sole masterpiece Witchfinder General (1968) aka The Conqueror Worm, which I recently had the beauteously bittersweet pleasure of re-watching. While Reeves pretty much exclusively worked in the horror genre (though he did work as an assistant director on the Anglo-Yugoslav adventure film The Long Ships (1964) directed by master cinematographer turned hack filmmaker Jack Cardiff), all of his three features, which also include the goofily sardonic vampire flick The She-Beast (1966) aka La Sorella di Satana aka Revenge of the Blood Beast and psychedelic (anti)youth flick The Sorcerers (1967), manage to transcend the genre and feature rather intricate themes of the rather cynical and oftentimes even misanthropic sort. In short, it is no surprise that these films were directed by a self-destructive nihilist of sorts that dropped dead for rather stupid reasons before he could evolve into a world-class cinematic artiste. After all, there are not many films like The Sorcerers where an elderly hag lives quite literally vicariously through a young man and uses his handsome body as a means to lure in and kill beauteous debutantes that she clearly has much resentment towards due to her rather withered appearance. Additionally, in a Reeves film, even minor characters stick out in terms of their unintentionally humorous repulsiveness as demonstrated by a character that is simply credited as “The Jewish Baker” in The Sorcerers who is rather aggressive when it comes to peddling pickles and lox and who has no qualms about throwing out any customer that dares not to buy something from his rather quaint kosher establishment.  Like any great auteur (and quite unlike many horror filmmakers), Reeves clearly abhorred filler and had an obsessive eye when it came to even the most seemingly mundane of details.

Undoubtedly, what makes Witchfinder General superior to Reeves’ previous feature is its sheer pastoral pulchritude and idyllic rural rapturous, which is in stark contrast to its savagely brutal S&M-flavored imagery and misanthropic and pessimistic themes. In fact, the film’s cinematography impressed Hollywood maverick Sam Peckinpah so much that he hired its Dutch cinematographer John Coquillon to shoot his UK feature Straw Dogs (1971) and later Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Cross of Iron (1977), and The Osterman Weekend (1983). Speaking of Peckinpah, Reeves’ film has much in common with the western genre in terms of plot and imagery, albeit it is set in 17th-century East Anglia, England instead of the American frontier.  Additionally, not unlike Peckinpah, Reeves clearly had a low opinion of humanity as demonstrated by his cinematic magnum opus, which depicts the sheer and utter (in)human depravity that ensues when a good young man acquires a pathological thirst for revenge and more or less destroys his enemies and himself in the process.




 Starring Vincent Price as the eponymous villain in a performance that is quite a bit meaner and leaner than his typical eccentrically effete and cultivated camp queen routine, Witchfinder General is indubitably a great example of an auteur abusing his actor(s) to get at perfect performance out of them. Indeed, in the hope that Price would give a much colder and crueler performance than usual and rather irked that his original choice for the role, Donald Pleasence, was replaced (notably, Reeves and his co-writer Tom Baker specially tailored the screenplay for him), Reeves treated the iconic horror star, who was old enough to be his grandfather, rather horribly during the production. In fact, when Price was injured as a result of falling off of his horse during the first day of shooting, Reeves refused to even see him because he wanted the actor to despise him, so naturally the two had a somewhat troubled relationship from the very start of the production of the film. Of course, in the end, the film was a great success and Price even later wrote Reeves a kind letter, which the filmmaker apparently proudly kept in his wallet, with the heartwarming words, “I was physically and mentally indisposed at that particular moment in my life (public and private). I do think you have made a very fine picture.”  Notably, Price was later quoted in the June 1992 issue of Classic Images that working with Reeves was, “a very sad experience . . . He was very unstable . . . difficult but brilliant.” By virtually all accounts, Reeves was a troubled young man with a dark mind that also happened to love cinema and all of these qualities are apparent in his handful of films.  Demonstrating a virtual Asperger-like obsession with cinema since he was a young child, wayward wunderkind Reeves ultimately got his first start in filmmaking by randomly showing up on the doorstep of his cinematic hero Don Siegel (Riot in Cell Block 11, The Killers), who generously offered him a job as his assistant and the rest his history.

If someone were to ask me the central theme of Witchfinder General, I would probably refer to the overly quoted aphorism from Friedrich Nietzsche’s classic text Beyond Good and Evil (1886), “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” Indeed, in the film, a seemingly morally pristine, sincerely altruistic, heroic, loving and both internally and externally beautiful mensch degenerates into a bloodthirsty beast that derives great pangs of pleasure in chopping up a bitchy queen with a axe. Likewise, a voluptuous beauty succumbs to total madness, but not before betraying her beloved fiancé by whoring herself out to a dirty old man in the hope that said dirty old man will spare the life of her beloved uncle.  As Reeves once confessed in a Penthouse interview,  “I'm interested in the depths of human degradation.  Just how far you and I can sink.”  In short, in Reeves’s rather ruthless little flick, there is no true happy ending, even though the bad guys technically get their just deserts.

As his second feature The Sorcerers—a film that provides a certain cathartic murderous mayhem to the insipid hedonism of Swinging London—demonstrates in a fashion that almost borders on ‘acid fascism,’ Reeves was no mindless leftist automaton.  Indeed, in its delightfully deranged deconstruction of the degenerate limey hippie scum pseudo-culture, Reeves' film is a sort of horror-sci-fi equivalent to Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966), albeit all the more effortlessly nihilistic.  Undoubtedly, Reeves certainly did not suffer from the same metapolitical affliction as many counterculture cucks of his era as demonstrated by the following remark from Witchfinder General co-writer Tom Baker, “One of the perennial arguments Mike and I had was about altruism vs. selfishness.  Mike said, ‘All human behavior is self-interested.’  And I, as a general sort of liberal student-type, would say, ‘No, no, no, people are more than that, people can do things altruistically.  People can help each other.’  But Mike was insistent—and I think he may be right—that all behavior was initially motivated by self-interest.  If you believe that, perhaps you do get a bit down.” Although just speculation, I suspect that Reeves would argee with American horror maestro H.P. Lovecraft's words, “Democracy is just a false idol — a mere catchword and illusion of inferior classes, visionaries and dying civilizations.” While Witchfinder General is certainly anti-authority to an extent, it feels more like the expression of a misanthropic right-wing iconoclast than some deluded college-lobotomized do-gooder type that believes that communism or anarchism will somehow lead to a magical utopia.  Indeed, the film was certainly not directed by someone that is foolish, politically retarded, or socially naive enough to even dream that humans are capable of any sort of utopia.  In fact, if one learns anything from a surprisingly fresh period piece like Reeves' Vincent Price vehicle, it is that people will always be the same and that certain people in positions of power will always exploit said power to the most underhandedly sinister degree.




 Although highly fictionalized to the point of being almost uncredible as the average Spielberg-helmed historical drama, Witchfinder General—a film that might be best described as an exceedingly English western-cum-folk-horror-cum-romance that would make for a great tourist advert for East Anglia if it did not feature so much human savagery and an overall uniquely unflattering depiction of English history—is actually based on the mass murdering escapades of infamous yet somewhat enigmatic 17th-century English lawyer-cum-witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins (c. 1620 – 12 August 1647) and his ‘witch pricker’ associate John Stearne (c. 1610–1670). Although very little is known about the real Hopkins, the book A History of Witchcraft: Sorcerers, Heretics, & Pagans (1980) Jeffrey Burton Russell notes in regard to the historical record, “The height of the witch-craze in England occurred in the 1640s, when the Civil War produced unusual anxieties and insecurities, and particularly in Essex, a county where war tensions and a strong previous tradition of witchcraft came together. Into this opportune situation stepped an unsuccessful lawyer named Matthew Hopkins, who was to cause more people to be hanged in two years than had been hanged in the previous century. Hopkins, a Puritan, was able to play on the war anxieties of the Puritan population of Essex and convince them that a legion of witches was active among them. At a distance it is difficult to judge Hopkins’ motivation. A man who had failed, he seems to have welcomed a chance for fame and success no matter how achieved; he may have relished the power; and he obtained a good deal of money for his efforts. He may even have believed in what he was doing: he relied heavily throughout his career on King James’ DAEMONOLOGIE. Whatever Hopkins’ own purpose, his ministrations were well received. Making a name for himself first in 1644-5 in Chelmsford, a target for witch accusations since 1566, he then moved throughout southeastern England, appointing searchers to help him in his work. Hopkins’ methods were thorough and merciless. He stripped suspects to search for witches’ marks, and used starvation, sleep deprivation, swimming, and other tests and torments. The confessions he elicited show his acceptance of the continental tradition: the witches were members of a sect of worshiping the Devil; they met at night; held initiations; had sexual relations with the devil; and sacrificed to him. Nor did Hopkins neglect English tradition: his witches kept familiars in the shape of dogs, cats, mice, moles, squirrels, and with names such as Prick-ears, Flo, and Bess. Hopkins and his assistant swore in court that they had seen such imps themselves. The witches allegedly performed a variety of maleficia: an elderly pastor of Brandeston, John Lowes, was condemned for sinking a ship from Ipswich by magic. Rossell Hope Robbins observes that the judges were so credulous under the influence of Hopkins’ persuasion that they made no effort even to ‘check whether any ship had foundered that day.’ But Hopkins had gone too far too fast. By 1646 considerable opposition to him was already surfacing; later that year he was forced to retire, and the following year he died in some disgrace. In the short space of two ears he had earned for himself the informal title of witchfinder-general of England and the contempt of future generations.” While the Hopkins depicted in Reeves’ film is just as absurdly murderous as the real-life one recounted by Russell, there is no doubt that the fictional cinematic version is a dreadfully suave sociopathic opportunistic that, like a Der Stürmer-esque caricature of a money-grubbing Israelite, has an unflinching willingness to commit the most ungodly acts for sheer monetary and carnal gain, though he conveniently gets his insipidly stupid and savagely sadistic underling Stearne, who takes great pleasure out of torturing anything with a heartbeat, to do most of his dirty work.  Indeed, the Hopkins portrayed by Price is certainly no lovable uncle type.




 Considering that the film was a coproduction between Judaic Brit Tony Tenser’s Tigon British Film Productions and fellow schlock-peddling chosenite Samuel Z. Arkoff's American International Pictures (AIP), there is no doubt that Witchfinder General was intended as tasteless exploitation trash that would have the capacity to get a morbid psychopathic bitch like Myra Hindley panty’s wet. Not unlike the 1966 novel of the same name by Ronald Bassett that it is somewhat loosely adapted from, the film also contains a heavily fictionalized depiction of the dastardly deeds of witch-hunter Matthew Hopkins, including a nearly 60-year-old Vincent Price portraying a man that was only about 25-years-old when the real events took place. Still, despite the film’s rather liberal approach to the historical facts and various depictions of relatively graphic sadistic torture and ultra-violence, I would not be so insufferably pretentious or anally retentive as to describe the film as exploitation as it is, in many ways, quite the opposite as a cinematic work that offers the viewer next to nil cheap sensual thrills, let alone any notable degree of cheap popcorn entertainment or philistine-geared catharsis. Indeed, despite featuring brutal torture scenes that might inspire deep thoughts of murderous misanthropy in certain viewers, the greatest and most ravishing scenes pay tribute to the organic splendor of Mother Nature and oftentimes have a Bergman-esque quality about them that really underscore auteur Reeves’ keen cinematic sense and unrivaled talent for meticulously polishing a pseudo-Poe-esque genre turd. Of course, one should not expect anything less from a serious auteur that was not really a fan of horror and instead was motivated to work within the genre simply because he wanted to prove that he could make a great film on a laughable sub-Corman-esque budget. In fact, Reeves funded his first ‘official’ feature The She-Beast with his own money (notably, he was the rebellious fatherless scion of a prestigious paint-manufacturing family), though he also believed that he would be nothing more than a mere dilettante if he were to continue to fund his own films. 




 As far as biopics in a horror genre form are concerned, I can think of few that would be more sickly intriguing than one based off of sadistic pervert and SS-Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger, who is one of the few Third Reich era German military officers that actually lives up to the exaggerated cartoon evil depicted in a stereotypical Hebraic Hollywood movie. While I sincerely doubt that the world will ever see a Dirlewanger biopic, Vincent Price’s sophisticatedly sadistic and elegantly evil character in Witchfinder General is surely the next best thing. Aside from the superficial physical resemblance, Price’s Matthew Hopkins is, not unlike Dirlewanger, a well-educated dirty old pervert that recklessly employs sadistic killers and exploits his political power and the chaos of war as a means to sexually and materially profit from the suffering of others. In short, Price is not the relatively charismatic and strangely lovable yet unintentionally goofy ghoul that he is best remembered from in classic films like André De Toth's House of Wax (1953) and William Castle's House on Haunted Hill (1959) but instead a mean-spirited misanthrope, obscene opportunist, and cold crypto-miser that cynically uses the anarchy of the English Civil War (1642–1651) as a murderous means to profit from the social and spiritual fears of the poor country peasants that absurdly admire him due to their misguided belief that he will somehow erase all of the evil in the world with his homicidal brand of pseudo-Christian hocus pocus. A coldly calculating yet ultimately quite craven charlatan that is plagued with a pernicious degree of pomposity and arrogance that ultimately leads to his much deserved ultra-violent demise via battle axe, Hopkins is in many ways the ultimate human monster and a fiercely fucked figure that makes slasher icons like Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger seem like lovable cartoon characters by comparison. Personally, I see Hopkins as symbolically embodying perennial political evil, as he is merely the Leon Trotsky or George Soros of his age, albeit executing his sinister aims in a more primitive and thus overtly odious fashion.  Indeed, if there was ever a filmic villain that could be compared to both Nazi pedo-butcher Dirlewanger and Judeo-Bolshevik Trotsky, it is indubitably Price's Herr Hopkins.




 While Hopkins represents man at his most suavely sinister as a callously corrupt cynic that prides himself on exploiting the weak and disenfranchised, Witchfinder General protagonist Richard Marshall (Reeves’ childhood friend and man muse Ian Ogilvy, who starred in all three of his friend's features)—a Roundhead soldier that supports the Parliament of England and is at war with Charles I of England and his supporters (the Cavaliers aka Royalists)—represents young naïve good, unspoiled hope, and great purity of spirit.  Unfortunately for the wiser and more wicked Hopkins, Marshall ultimately manages to make up for his lack of wisdom and viciousness through sheer energy and tenacity after discovering an unquenchable thirst for revenge.  After receiving a military promotion in rank upon saving his much respected military commander Captain Gordon (Michael Beint) by killing an enemy sniper and subsequently becoming engaged to his beloved girlfriend Sara (Hilary Dwyer) after being granted permission from her village priest uncle John Lowes (Rupert Davies), Marshall—a rather dashingly handsome dude that is quite proud to express his love and affection for his beloved—seems to be on top of the world, but that all changes when witch-hunter Hopkins and his proudly sadistic underling John Stearne (Robert Russell) turn his life into a virtual living hell. Indeed, upon being treated as a scapegoat a result of being a Catholic priest in a protestant village, Sara’s uncle John soon finds himself the victim of a literal witch-hunt and Hopkins is called into Brandeston, Suffolk to ‘prove’ that the innocent old man is a dedicated disciple of the devil. Stabbed in the back with a large needle to prove that he bears the so-called “Devil's Mark” and forced to endure various other forms of nonsensical torture by Hopkins’ right-hand man Stearne, Lowes is almost certainly destined to receive a brutal demise, so his niece Sara intervenes and decides to make the ultimate sensual sacrifice.  Unfortunately, all of this might have been prevented had Marshall had another day or two of leave from the army and been around to stop Hopkins before he made Lowes his spiritual prisoner, but such is the dark absurdity of fate in the rather ruthless Reevesian realm.




 Despite her love and devotion for her fiancé, Sara quite selflessly, though somewhat dubiously, decides to offer her nice and nubile carnal goods to Hopkins under the condition that he spare her uncle John from a grisly death. Indeed, Hopkins—a phlegmatic player with the spirit of a sadistic pimp and a special predilection for fresh and adequately fleshy pieces of golden-haired ass—makes it quite clear to Sara what he wants from her when he states in regard to the precarious situation of her uncle when they first meet, “In private talk, we may shed some light on his innocence. Yes, away from the distraction of the crowd. Perhaps in the quiet of your room tonight, you might be able to help me prove him guiltless.” Despite Sara sexually betraying her beloved Marshall, her inordinately altruistic efforts ultimately prove to be in vain after Hopkins changes his mind as a result of Stearne brutally raping her in a field during a nice sunny day. Too dignified of a gentleman to accept sloppy seconds from his buffoonish knuckle-dragging underling, Hopkins—a calmly malevolent mensch that seems to pride himself on his refined sartorial fastidiousness—seems to become disgusted with Sara after the savage sexual pillaging and quite callously reneges on his despicable deal, thereupon leading to the further debasement of the heroine and the public hanging of her uncle.

Needless to say, when Marshall discovers what happens, he somewhat rightly decides that a virtual scorched-earth policy is apt when it comes to taking revenge against his uniquely ungodly enemies.  Indeed, after symbolically ‘marrying’ Sara in the virtual ruins of her uncle's home and then having her travel to the nearby village of Lavenham for sanctuary, Marshall immediately begins plotting his revenge. In fact, Marshall becomes so completely and utterly consumed with bloodthirsty vengeance that he rather riskily and irresponsibly decides to postpone an extremely important special military mission from his boss Oliver Cromwell (Patrick Wymark) to kidnap the King because he is naturally more keen on hunting down Hopkins and Stearne with the help of some of his soldier comrades. In fact, Marshall even dares to risk execution as punishment for desertion, which his boss previously reprimanded him for after he absconded from his military upon hearing about Hopkins' reign of terror in Brandeston. Indeed, just before he goes on his revenge campaign, the Captain rebukes Marshall for deserting his post and then warns him, “However, in this case, there are two factors which will stay me from subjecting you to a full court-martial. One, we are grouped here at Naseby in preparation for a major assault on the Royalist armies. We need every man we can get. And you’re a pretty good soldier, most of the time. Secondly, I would sleep ill if I had to send to the gallows a man who saved my life. But, Cornet, remember this. If you should leave your command again, I will have no alternative but to throw the whole weight of military law against you.” Although Marshall's soldier buddies manage to find Hopkins and Stearne while they are traveling in the countryside, the two villains manage to getaway and they even kill some of the protagonist's buddies in the process.  In what ultimately proves to be another absurdly hapless scenario, Hopkins ends up in the same village of Lavenham by happenstance as Sara.  While Marshall finally manages to reach the village and reunite with Sara, their happy reunion is short-lived as Hopkins has the two arrested under trumped up witchcraft charges and then sent to a torture dungeon.  Needless to say, Hopkins takes great delight in having Stearne savagely torture Sara by jabbing large needles in her back while a bound and tied Marshall helplessly watches with a mixed expression of gruesome terror and seething murderous rage.

While Marshall eventually manages to kill Hopkins and stomp out one of Stearne’s eyes, he morally degenerates into a bloodlusting killer in the process, thus leading to his beloved Sara literally losing her mind in the process as she watches the man she loves derive savagely sadistic glee as he hacks away at the alpha-witch-hunter with a nice big battle axe in what is ultimately a more bitter than sweet ending. Indeed, after escaping while bound to a wall in the deep dark depths of the torture chamber, Marshall knocks Stearne on his ass and drives his foot into his eye and then grabs an axe and immediately begins chopping up Hopkins with a certain non compos mentis gusto. When Marshall’s friend Robert walks in on him taking great delight in continuing to swing his axe at the heavily mutilated body of a barely living Hopkins, he is so sickened by the grisly sight that he swiftly shoots the witch-hunter to put him out of his misery. Needless to say, Marshall takes offense to his friend’s mercy killing and proceeds to repeatedly violently scream at Robert, “You took him away from me.” Rather unfortunately but not surprisingly, Marshall degenerated into the sort of “monster” that Nietzsche warned of, though it is hard to blame him. 




 In its depiction of corrupt Christian authorities using their powers for pernicious, if not downright satanic, means to falsely accuse people of being witches and heretics and then having them tortured and murdered in the most malevolent of fashions, Witchfinder General—surely a singular cinematic work when it was first released—indubitably influenced a number of films from high-camp masterpieces like Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) to exploitative ‘folk horror’ like Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan's Claw (1970) to German-produced sleaze like Mark of the Devil (1970) aka Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält directed by Michael Armstrong to similarly crypto-Teutonic Jesús Franco trash like The Bloody Judge (1970) starring Christopher Lee to Ulli Lommel’s feministic Salem Witch Trials oriented The Devonsville Terror (1983), among various other less notable examples. Of course, aside from possibly The Devils (incidentally, Russell apparently hated Reeves' film), Reeves films is unquestionably the most thematically rich, aesthetically rapturous, and organically (as opposed to exploitatively) brutal of these films, especially as far as the somewhat mercurial villain is concerned. While England is not exactly plagued with murderously greedy witch-hunters nowadays, it certainly has a wealth of corrupt politicians and public servants that are, in their own sort of post-religious neoliberal way, witch-hunters that have no qualms about severely punishing any ostensible heretic that dares not to toe the party line.

Indeed, in jolly olde England, playing a relatively harmless prank like leaving a bacon sandwich outside at mosque can be a virtual death sentence, or so poor Kevin Crehan learned after mysteriously dying in prison while halfway through a one-year sentence for committing the ungodly crime of donating free breaded pork products to impoverished Muslims. In short, the evil heretics nowadays are the so-called ‘racists’ and ‘bigots’ that succumb to the insanely inhuman idea that the UK should not degenerate into a caliphate and that England should stay English (of course, the recent racially retarded casting of middle-aged Jewish negress Sophie Okonedo as Queen Margaret of Anjou in the BBC TV series The Hollow Crown by hack director Dominic Cooke reveals that even besmirching medieval British history via blatant blackwashing of a historic Aryan beauty is a suitable means to promote the globalist multicultural agenda). In fact, the English are so desperately afraid of being labeled modern-day heretics that a number of police officers and politicians intentionally looked the other way during the Rotherham child sexual slavery scandal—the “biggest child protection scandal in UK history” and an unbelievably sick and twisted tragedy that involved  the sexual enslavement of at least 1,400 white British children, most whom were between 11 and 15 years old, between 1997 and 2013—lest they suffer the horrific fate of being called “racists” for bringing these Paki pimps and their similarly inbred underlings to justice. Of course, in modern England, mocking the native religion of Christianity can gain one social capital in certain contexts but insulting the prophet Mohammad and his black and brown disciplines can lead to all sorts of punishment in both legal bureaucratic and less than legal terroristic fashions.  Luckily for modern-day Brits, they get to contend with the radically random dangers of being plowed down by an Allah-approved ‘truck of peace’ or being blown up with a ‘bomb of peace’ instead of deal with dastardly dudes of their own faith and race from a number of centuries ago like Mr. Matthew Hopkins.




 I think that there is a certain irony in that the protagonist of Witchfinder General is fighting for Oliver Cromwell, who is (in)famous for allowing the resettlement of the Jews in England during the mid-1650s after having been banned for over 300 years since 1290 when King Edward I of England had issued an edict expelling all Israelites from the Kingdom of England. While that was certainly a very longtime ago, its repercussions are felt very clearly today; whether it be the dubious legacy of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, parasitic colonial tentacles of the Rothschild banking dynasty, Sassoon Family and the Opium Wars, the Balfour Declaration, fratricidal philo-semitism of Winston Churchill, degenerate art of pervert Lucian Freud, or anti-English Zio-globalism of the Miliband brothers and Luciana Berger, among countless other similarly unflattering examples. Needless to say, it is no surprise that a violent anti-Christian film like Reeves would be produced by a Hebraic chap like Tony Tenser who, on top of being one of the UK’s most important and revolutionary celluloid smut-peddlers, was responsible for producing early films directed by fellow Judaic Roman Polanski like Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966). While torturing and lynching supposed witches is no longer vogue among English politicians and public servants, the UK government is still doing its fair share of witch-hunting against pernicious politically incorrect heretics, as one merely needs to make naughty comments about a member of G-d's chosen tribe online and they can expect a police visit and possibly even jail time as many of Luciana Berger's critics have discovered. Undoubtedly, it is quite fitting that Vincent Price’s Matthews Hopkins has a certain Svengali-esque quality in terms of both character and appearance. As someone that has managed to get a number of young men imprisoned for years for simply hurting her feelings over the internet, Berger is undoubtedly one of the many Matthews Hopkins that persecute poor peasants in England today.  While I am not exactly religious, I would not be surprised if the UK was now ruled over by the devil himself, as it is spiritually sick nation where alien anti-Christian religions are protected to the fullest extent of the law and Jesus has been virtually regulated to a rancid sewer next to a Rotherham graveyard.




 As a promising young European auteur that was only able to direct a handful of memorable films before dying before he was 30, Michael Reeves is certainly the Jean Vigo of horror cinema. Aside from dying tragically prematurely and having a relatively small oeuvre, Reeves is also comparable to Vigo in the sense that he was a somewhat anarchistic individual who suffered the misfortune of losing his father at a very young age, as if both men were victims of some intergenerational family curse. In that sense, it is only fitting that the male protagonist played by Reeves’ buddy Ian Ogilvy dies horrendously while under the spell of two old farts after terrorizing Swinging London in The Sorcerers, as the auteur seemed to be a victim of both his zeitgeist and heritage (aside from his unfortunate family history, Reeves was apparently also both haunted and helped by a fairly nice inheritance). Notably, after finishing Witchfinder General, the young auteur was preparing to direct the Edgar Allan Poe adaptation The Oblong Box (1969) starring Vincent Price, but he was fired a week before shooting because he overdosed on a similar cocktail of alcohol and barbiturate to the sort that would ultimately kill him. Such senseless nihilistic self-destruction seems to have been common during that time among creative types as Reeves’ musician comrade Paul Ferris, who created the musical score for Witchfinder General and even appears in a small but notable role in the film as a young husband that attempts to assassinate Hopkins after he burns his wife alive, attempted to kill himself around the same time (Ferris was eventually successful in 1995 when it committed self-slaughter via drug overdose at the age of 54). Apparently, while visiting Ferris in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt, the two friends morbidly joked about who would be the first to successfully carryout the deed. 




 Aside from The Oblong Box and another Price vehicle entitled Scream and Scream Again (1970), Reeves was actively planning to get out of the horror ghetto (though, he did make an attempt to buy the rights to Daphne du Maurier's short story Don't Look Now, which was ultimately adapted by fellow Brit Nicholas Roeg in 1973). Indeed, aside from the Tenser-produced IRA-themed and Bonnie and Clyde-inspired crime flick O’Hooligan’s Mob, Reeves was also apparently considered for directing what would ultimately be the most famous counterculture film of all-time, or as cinematographer John Coquillon remarked to American horror director Jeff Burr, who directed Price in the horror anthology From a Whisper to a Scream (1987) aka The Offspring, in a 1983 letter, “One day he called me full of excitement. He'd found the story. We were going to ride around the US, shoot in 16mm and shoot every which way, into the sun and out of the sun - on motorcycles. The actor was to be a long-time LA buddy - a completely unknown son of an actor - name of Peter Fonda. The film was to be called Easy Rider. It was while planning this movie that Michael Reeves died. I still mourn the man and miss him. Always will. One doesn't get to meet many people like him.”  In fact, as recounted by Reeves' friend and perennial leading man Ian Ogilvy in John B. Murray's informative book The Remarkable Michael Reeves: His Short and Tragic Life (2002) in regard to the auteur's lack of enthusiasm for the horror genre, “Mike only made horror movies because they were more likely to see an easy profit—thereby giving him, the director, a reputation with producers for making sure-fire successes.  He had no great affection for the genre and looked forward to the day when he could make a different kind of film.  He said once that we were making crap, but it was going to be the best-made crap in the world.  I like to think there are a few moments in the three films we made together where we came quite close to making the best-made crap in the world.”  Surely, Reeves transcended celluloid shit and proved to be an alchemist of sorts with his swansong Witchfinder General, as it is an almost disturbingly raw and visceral cinematic work from a clearly foredoomed soul that was able to sire what is an organic gold-tier equivalent to what is now described as ‘torture porn’ and a film that is, almost literally, worthy of Jean Cocteau's quote, “Beauty makes one lose one's head.  Poetry is born of this decapitation.”  Notably, in a interview with Penthouse, Reeves remarked, “I think violence and murder (in film) are quite justifiable.  All you have to do is bring it down to an acceptable level.  Then you can make points about the aggressiveness inherent in everybody.”

Although I extremely loathe rap music and generally feel a sense of disgust when I encounter people obsessing over the death of a celebrity, I was somewhat disturbed to learn about the rather recent premature demise of tragic dope-addled 21-year-old rapper ‘Lil Peep’ (real name Gustav Åhr) who, not unlike forsaken auteur Reeves, dropped dead as a result of a seemingly accidental drug overdose just as he was gaining some inkling of fame and evolving as an artist.  Not unlike Reeves, Åhr—an unintentionally goofy chap with degenerate face tats who proudly sported pink Hello Kitty beanies and was famous for creating a rap hybrid that including elements of emo and pseudo-goth—was somewhat of a pretty boy, thus making the thought of his young decaying body, which once graced European fashion runways, seem all the more disturbing.  Also, like Reeves, Åhr was consumed with an innate fiery passion that seemed to be the root of both his quick success and even quicker demise.  Totally unpretentious and a virtual James Dean of auteur horror filmmaking, Reeves, also not unlike Åhr, is a perfect example of the semi-subconsciously self-annihilating poète maudit par excellence as a troubled chap that could not even be bothered to live as long as Fassbinder and assemble the sort of extensive and/or eclectic oeuvre that would have guaranteed his place in cinema history as one of the greats (or, at least, somewhat great), but such is oftentimes the fate of an intemperately passionate, proverbial Nietzschean ‘Dancing Star.’  Indeed, as Reeves' friend Paul Ferris once noted, “No, he was no great intellectual.  But, does that matter, you see, for the truth of things?  Twenty-four years old, movie mad, but what he did have in him was he wanted to make good stuff to the best of his ability.  Movie mad, as we all were, so in that he's a bit like Hitchcock.  I don't think Hitchcock went to university first and then thought, ‘Right, I'll do some movies now.’  He was movie mad.  It's the wrong way round.  It tends to be a bit tried if you come at it literally the other way around—no passion.  Mike was passion, passion, passion, movies, movies, movies.”  As both a lifelong horror fan and pretentious cinephile, I can certainly attest to Reeves' singular cinematic passion.



-Ty E

14 comments:

DIONYSOS ANDRONIS said...

TyE DO YOU KNOW IF THERE IS A RELATION BETWEEN ENGLISH DIRECTOR MICHAEL REEVES AND ITALIAN BODY-BUILDER (and also Star) STEVE REEVES ? ANYHOW THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS TAKING PLACE IN THE SAME HISTORIC PERIOD :
______________________________________________________
"National-Sociailsme et Homosexualité"
de Michael Kuhnen, éditions Ars Magna, Nantes , 2014, pp.26


Cet essai philosophique sur la valeur sacrée et national-socialiste de l'homosexualité a été une lecture très agréable et originale pour nous. Nous connaissions les tendances homosexuelles de Ernst Rohm qui apparaît en photo sur la page 22 de cet ouvrage. "Or les relations homosexuelles y étaient très répandues. Elles étaient même la norme dans les degrés les plus élevés de l'Ordre des Templiers"(op.cit.page 23).
Les beaux soldats SS défilent sur la page 2 de cet ouvrage en regardant la caméra photographique du reporteur de cette époque avec un doux sourire. Ce sourire avec une douceur inhabituelle pour les jeune soldats SS, qui a été occultée par la plupart des médias aujourd'hui, ne se traduit pas seulement comme "un engagement total de la vie" (in "Art Totalitaire" de Claudio Mutti sur les ouvrages du même éditeur Ars Magna, page 15, Nantes, 2009) mais aussi par "un réalisme supérieur, un sens absolu de l'existence" (in Mutti, op.cit.page 15). Michael Kuhnen est mort du sida en 1991 et selon lui "l'homosexualité n'était pas seulement naturelle : elle avait fondé la civilisation" (in Kuhnen, op.cit.page 1).

"Les Templiers incarnaient en tout cas un aspect positif du Christianisme, le mode de vie naturel et libre du combattant" (Kuhnen, op.cit,page 1) et plus loin l'auteur précise que "en revanche Sparte favorisait même les rapports homosexuels entre les combattants : le jeune Spartiate et son partenaire plus âgé formaient un couple combattant ensemble et "s'il le fallait, mourant côte à côte" (op.cit. page 13).
Et ce serait vraiment inutile à vous ajouter que cette phrase nous a fortement ému en réalisant que ce rapport d'amour mortel homosexuel nous a été privé par la société moderne capitaliste et démocratique.
écrit par Dionysos ANDRONIS

teddy crescendo said...

I liked the gorgeous bird with the massive knockers in the tavern, i had endless fantasys about tit-fucking that sex-pot.

John Carpenter said...

Such a shame this film was made in Britain, if it had been made in America with a cast and crew that was wholly and exclusively from America it really would`ve been a masterpiece, as it is, strickly speaking, its just more limey made crap.

Tony Brubaker said...

Interesting to see Wilfred Brambell and Patrick Wymark in the stills, i hated Brambell totally of course because he was British rubbish and a faggot, where-as i hated Wymark for his odious British nationality but he was at least heterosexual thankfully which did redeem him considerably obviously.

Tony Brubaker said...

Michael Reeves snuffed it just 9 days after Boris Karloff snuffed it...EERIE...thats if you give a damn about British garbage of course, which i dont obviously.

Jennifer Croissant said...

What you said about the current state of British society was more interesting than what you said about the film itself.

Tony Brubaker said...

Danny Peary unfortunately included this movie (along with six other British made films and two disgusting faggot items as well) in his first book of cult movies in 1981, that always spoilt and besmirced it for me, if only the British and the queers could`ve been deleted from the book it would`ve been perfect.

Nate O`Hanlon said...

Hilary Dwyer said that when they were making THE OBLONG BOX Vincent Price wanted to pull her knickers down.

teddy crescendo said...

"I should feel very uneasy knowing i had sent to the gallows a geezer who`d saved my life, however, if you leave your post again i shall have no choice but to throw the entire weight of military law against you", i always liked that line. And when Hopkins calls stearne "an unkempt lout", that line always makes me fall about laughing. But the tits on that bird in the tavern...WOW, what a bird that was, those tits were on-a-par with Pauline Hickeys and that incredible bird was born the same year this film was released...EERIE...but talk about tit-fuck heaven ! ! !.

teddy crescendo said...

Something that gets on my nerves about the scene in the tavern is that stearne is sitting at the same table as the astonishing mega-titted beauty and suddenly he gets up and someone says "where are you going" to which he idiotically replys "i`m going for a walk...BY MYSELF", instead you`d have thought he would`ve taken that gorgeous bird upstairs to one of the rooms and then proceeded to perform literally every concievable and possible sex-act in the known universe on that amazing babe for six hours non-stop, but, like i said, what does he say instead "i`m going for a walk...BY MYSELF", what a silly wanking bastard. Now i know he certainly wasn`t a woofter obviously (thank goodness) but, all the same, to turn his nose up at a honey like that, he really did act like a stupid tosser.

John Carpenter said...

Its been estimated that if the British film industry could somehow be totally annihilated the entire world would become a utopia with-in a few weeks!.

Nate O`Hanlon said...

I dont really understand why Reeves wanted to get out of the so-called 'horror ghetto', after all who would want to waste their time making boring drama`s when they could make imaginative horror movies instead, only a British toss-pot maybe.

Nate O`Hanlon said...

Happy birthday Woody Allen, 82 today.

Jennifer Croissant said...

Congratulations on the tenth anniversary of the site Ty E, heres to another ten years of great reveiws.