Film: Witchfinder General
The most famous film by British 1960s horror studio Tigon British Film Productions (even though everyone assumes that it must have been by Hammer). Witchfinder General, known in the USA as "The Conqueror Worm", starred horror icon Vincent Price as the notorious seventeenth-century fanatic Matthew Hopkins, the eponymous self-styled Witchfinder General. Initially condemned by critics for its graphic violence, but a modest commercial success, the film has become a celebrated Cult Classic of British rural horror.
This film contains the following tropes:
- Age Lift: Hopkins, who was in his late twenties at the oldest at the time of his death, was played by Vincent Price, who was fifty-six years of age when the film was made.
- Artistic License – History: You can read about it here at The Other Wiki. Though its worth noting that the novel it adapted its story from also uses some Artistic License.
- Big Bad: Matthew Hopkins, the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General.
- Burn the Witch!: Several extremely graphic and gruesome witch-burning scenes.
- Campbell Country: One of the Trope Codifiers of English rural horror.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Lots and lots, as you'd expect from the concept.
- Downer Ending: Hopkins is dead, but Marshall and Sara are severely traumatised and possibly permanently insane as a result of their terrible experiences.
- English Civil War: The event that is the background for the film.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: Hopkins is an uncomedic, darker example of this trope.
- The Film of the Book: It is based upon the 1966 novel of the same name by author Ronald Bassett.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Hopkins is turned into a far more cruel, monstrous individual in this film than what surviving historical documents would attest to.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: The film has no actual supernatural content, and demonstrates that human fanaticism, corruption and cruelty can create worse horrors than any magical monster.
- Market-Based Title: Known as The Conqueror Worm in the USA to turn it into a Dolled-Up Installment of Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, many of which had featured Price.
- Mercy Kill: One of the soldiers does this to Hopkins, who is still alive after being savagely hacked with an axe by Marshall.
- The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: A very disturbing example, as the soldier's Mercy Kill on the injured Hopkins sends Marshall into a psychotic rage at having his full vengeance "stolen".
- Playing Against Type: Vincent Price as Hopkins. While he had made his career playing villains, the vast majority of them were of the Pantomine and Camp varierty that the audience were supposed to fall in love with. In here he plays an genuinely psychopathic and horrific character. Price actually accepted the role without reading the script, assuming it was yet another swashbucking-adventure flick.
- Recut: A particularly complex range of alternate versions. Many versions, especially the UK one, were heavily cut to censor the graphic violence and torture scenes. Unconnectedly, the film's producers added additional scenes, in particular to certain European releases, featuring sex and nudity between Hopkins's henchmen and bar girls, which the director, Michael Reeves, was very unhappy with. Reeves's early death meant that he wasn't around in the home video age to advise on an official "director's cut". There are a number of quite different versions circulating that have been released for home video, screened in cinemas, or broadcast, some of which contain both the violence and the sex, some of which contain only one of them, and some of which have neither.
- Religious Horror: One of the central tropes of the film.
- Scarpia Ultimatum: Initially downplayed but later made even worse. Hopkins declares Sara's father to be a witch and starts torturing him, until she, and not Hopkins, comes up with the idea of offering him sex to let her father go. He agrees, but when his depraved minion Stearne rapes her, he treats her as betraying him and has her father tortured and killed.
- Straw Hypocrite: Hopkins is portrayed as a Manipulative Bastard who claims to be a strongly principled Puritan, but is simply using it as a ruse to get the town's people's trust as a stepping stone from going through their hearts to get to their wallets.
- Torture Porn: The film was considered to be this when first released, and is still disturbing today.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Apart from the character of Hopkins and some of his torture techniques, all of the film is fictitious.
- Witch Hunt: What Hopkins claims is his mission.