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Double Feature Movie Show: IT’S A WITCHHUNT

When witches are being brought up, there’s always something else going on.

Typically, it’s some sort of sexism or fear of the unknown. It’s always about paranoia.

Here are a couple of movies about witches that are also about so much more.

THE WITCH (2015)
Written and directed by Robert Eggers

The horror sensation that’s sweeping the nation!

That was silly, but whatever. The Witch is part of a (hopefully) new wave of horror that is more about mood and terror than it is about shock and jump scares. It’s a slow-mover that knows what to show and when to show.

Take your mind back to the days of the Puritans. The days when religion ruled the few white people who were in the New World…well, more than it does now. A family of six is sent away from their settlement in New England for reasons that our modern heads won’t quite be able to wrap around. They now have to live on their own on land that is, according to them, cursed. According to reality, it is probably just infertile.

Not long after they’re settled in, the oldest daughter, Thomsin (Anya Taylor-Joy), is playing peek-a-boo with the baby, Sam, in the field. We’ve all seen that part of the preview. She opens her eyes after three seconds and the baby is gone. Nowhere to be seen.

Sam is taken by a witch. Not a wolf. Not another human. A witch. There is no doubt about it.

The witch is shown in the moments after that doing horrible things to Sam. Horrible, awful things. Things that you may not believe you’re seeing in a mainstream movie.

Not super-graphic, but the suggestion and the aftermath are there and it’s terrible.

The rest of the film is the paranoia that pervades people who are isolated and refuse to trust each other even though they’re family. Everyone accuses everyone else of being a witch. It’s not until the last half hour that the true consequences of their paranoia come to fruition.

From the moment the movie started, I was all in. The Witch may not be the best horror film of the year, but it’s certainly a very good horror film. It’s a fairy tale without the happily ever after. It’s not based in full-on reality, but it has a very real mood and a very real sense of dread.

WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUEROR WORM, 1968)
Directed by Michael Reeves
Written by Michael Reeves/Tom Baker/Louis M Hayward
Based on a novel by Ronald Bassett and a poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Vincent Price is every classic horror fan’s favorite actor. Not just because he was a fine actor with a great voice, but because he had FUN with what he did. And he did it all.

Witchfinder General is probably the least “fun” movie he ever made. It’s dark. It’s bloody. It’s a little nihilistic. And Matthew Hopkins is the least sympathetic villain he ever played.

In the 17th century, England is being torn apart. And all of the revolutionary thoughts are making it easy to take advantage of their superstitions. Hopkins knows exactly how to do this. He roams from town to town with his small band of men, promising to rid the towns of witches.

Of course, he just finds people to accuse others of witchcraft and this drowns, burns and slices his way to monetary or sexual favors. He and his assistant, John Stearne (Robert Russell), love their work and its benefits.

There’s something almost flat-out wrong about seeing Price be such a horrible human being. I mean, I’ve seen him murder men and women, put people through the wringer, manipulate them, pour wax on them…but this is the only time I’ve seen him do it without the true glee that’s normal in his performances.

Michael Reeves created a dark, twisted movie about how a person (or government) can feed on paranoia, using it to gain power, money and more.

Vincent said that this was the least fun that he ever had on a set, but he felt that Reeves had a bright career ahead of him because he was a very talented filmmaker.

Unfortunately, Reeves wouldn’t survive another year. He overdosed in February of 1969. Even though he suffered from depression (which sort of shows in the gloom of this film), his death was ruled accidental and not a suicide. Vincent didn’t get along well with Reeves, but he still felt that it was one of the biggest tragedies of his own career.

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