Vincent Price is Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General of the title, roaming the country lanes of 17th Century England as the Civil War rages around him. With his able assistant at his side, Hopkins is the judge, jury and executioner of poor unfortunates labelled witches or friends of the Devil by their those in their respective villages.
When Hopkins picks on the wrong victim, in the shape of Richard Marshall’s (Ian Ogilvy) girlfriend, Sara (Hilary Dwyer), Marshall sets out to serve his justice to the Witchfinder, whatever the cost.
Looking stunning in its new transfer, Reeves’ film is both a joy to behold and a fascinating slice of 1960 British horror, the addition of Price giving a touch of gravitas to an otherwise workmanlike cast.
The horror of the story is more to be found in the morals of Hopkins and the British establishment towards religion rather than anything supernatural, but that’s enough to make it a chilling watch. A fine set of extras, including a commentary, documentaries and alternate sequences, make this a choice purchase.
Speaking of the supernatural, 1934’s The Clairvoyant (Odeon Entertainment), toys with the subject as its lead character, Maximus (Claude Rains), discovers that his powers of mind reading which were previously faked have now become real.
Dubbed “King of the Mid Readers”, Maximus’ music hall routine is interrupted when he correctly predicts that a train will crash, killing members of the public. When he’s proved correct, he’s thrust into the limelight and his life changes, though not necessarily for the better.
Rains, still a few years away from his triumphant Hollywood years, makes for a suitably moody Maximus, initially keen to exploit his new-found skills for money, before he starts to wonder just what is happening to him.
Thanks to Rains being supported by a fine cast of character actors, including King Kong’s Fay Wray as Maximus’ wife, and unexpectedly dark script from Charles Bennett and Bryan Edgar Wallace’s, The Clairvoyant is no mere potboiler, but a fascinating curio which deserves wider exposure.
This week’s final classic title is Blackbeard the Pirate (Odeon Entertainment), an RKO romp featuring Robert Newton as the titular scourge of the seas who comes into contact with Edward Maynard (Keith Andes) as he attempts to prove that Henry Morgan (Torin Thatcher) is a pirate as well as a businessman.
Though screenwriter Alan Le May manages to squeeze in sword fighting, galleons, derring do and even the odd hero and heroine in the shape of Andes and the stunning Linda Darnell, all brought to vivid life by director Raoul Walsh, it’s Newton who unbalances everything with his over-the-top portrayal of Blackbeard.
A combination of every stereotyped pirate ever put on screen, Newton’s performance is impossible to take seriously, even in this already heightened reality. If you can overlook Newton for a little while, you should have a good time, and at only 99 minutes it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome like the Pirates of the Caribbean series.