General Misconception

June 18, 2016

Inevitably they’re remaking Witchfinder General, just as they remake all films. It was announced at Cannes last year that Nicolas Winding Refn and Rupert Preston would be starting on this in the near future.

The 1968 film by Michael Reeves was renamed the Conqueror Worm in the USA in a mercenary attempt to cash in on the Vincent Price / Edgar Allan Poe series of 1960s films. Conqueror Worm was a poem about death by Poe and, although the title made no sense and had absolutely no bearing on the film whatsoever, this is what they decided upon. Who pays these people and how much?

Leaving aside the lack of imagination in endlessly churning out remakes, perhaps this new version will address an error in the original.

Matthew Hopkins, East Anglia’s most notorious serial killer, was born around 1620 in Great Wenham, Suffolk. In the name of his benevolent God, he hung around 300 innocent women during the English Civil War, more than all the other witch killers combined of the past century.

In the early 1640s, he used inheritance money to buy the Thorn Inn in the village of Mistley, where many of his witch trials were held. The present inn was built in 1723 on the foundations and cellars of this.

 A plaque on the wall tells of the atrocities carried out there.

Whenever people think of Hopkins, they usually picture Vincent Price, star of the 1968 film. This is understandable as, apart from a few ancient woodcut prints, which may as well have been drawn by a six-year-old, this mature, grey-haired look is the only image we have to go on. The ludicrous title Hopkins gave himself also fools us into thinking of an older man; General is a high rank and the holders, such as Eisenhower and Patton, are inevitably getting on a bit.

Brilliant and memorable as he was in the part, however, Vincent Price looked nothing like Matthew Hopkins. Price was 57 when he played the role and, surprisingly, most of the Witchfinder’s killings took place before he was 25. Like Jim Morrison and many other music stars, Hopkins died at 27, probably of tuberculosis. No one is certain.

He’s buried in Mistley churchyard, but I wasted thirty minutes searching before a clergyman helped me out. Hopkins lies in an unmarked grave.

 

Maybe the new version of Witchfinder General will address the age misconception and cast someone more appropriate, like Justin Bieber.

The filming locations are one aspect of the movie that was very realistic, all of them being shot in the actual villages and countryside where Hopkins carried out his cash-for-murders business. Many killings took place in Lavenham, west of Ipswich, and little has changed in the small town. The witch burning was filmed in the square there on the very spot where women were executed.

 

Kentwell Hall, a beautiful old manor in Long Melford, Suffolk was also used. This house is walking distance from the tiny hamlet of Borley, site of the famous Borley Rectory hauntings.

St. John's church at Rushford, just outside Thetford. This was the church of John Lowes played by Rupert Davies.

The finale was flmed at Orford Castle, again in Suffolk. This is a wonderfully complete medieval keep near Woodbridge on the edge of Rendlesham Forest, famous for its 1980 'British Roswell' UFO activity.

I live in hope that this new version of Witchfinder General will break the remake curse and turn out to be a really good film, unlike Psycho, Total Recall, Robocop, Get Carter, Poltergeist and the countless others. Let's pray they don't cast Nicolas Cage as Hopkins in an attempt to relive the glories of the Wicker Man remake.

 

 

 

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