Witchfinder General Blu-ray Review
The disc presents a theatrically correct widescreen 1.85:1 1080p transfer and is Region free. Boldly stated on the cover is “digitally re-mastered” and after seeing the terrific results that a 4k transfer can achieve, what we have here is somewhat misusing that motif. Yes, the print has been considerably cleaned up and is bolder, brighter and more colourful than ever before, but it still shows its age a lot, something that a full restoration would not; however, it’s a lesser known title and I am pleased that some work has been done to bring this title to a modern audience.
First up, when viewing the opening you could be forgiven to thinking that there has been no restoration at all; there are myriad marks, both black and white, as well as softness and heavier grain. However, once you get into the credits things improve dramatically, the credits sequence is suitably black with wording bold against it. Once into the film proper it is clear the extent of the work that has been done; the cleanup is extremely good, the majority of the marks are now gone leaving a clean looking print that still retains some nice organic grain. Detail can be wonderful, look at the creases in Stern’s leather top, the marks on Marshall’s armour or the wood grain to the pistols. The open grasslands and distant forestry too are awash with detail, leaves and bracken are crisp against their backdrop. However, there are also many moments of softness and this is not just the style of filming, which, in this case did encompass plenty of soft focus, where detail dose become less well defined.
Perhaps the biggest leap is that of the colour, which is bolder and brighter than ever before, check out the Roundhead’s red uniform that is defiant against the green of the grassland. Meadows are lush looking and the skies are a delicate shade of blue, that is, when it’s not clouded.
Brightness and contrast are set well, blacks are certainly deeper than ever before, but they are never quite that inky blackness, but they still contain decent enough shadow detail. There are a few white blooms, look at the first Roundhead skirmish, when Marshall is tending the horses, the skyline is rather ill defined and the tree branch detail is sometimes lost. Fluctuations in the brightness are also quite common, but they are far tamer then all previous releases, meaning the image is far more uniform in look, with only the scene changes dipping in quality, which has always been the case.
Digitally there are no compression problems, but there are a few slight instances of edge enhancement. There is an even presence of grain, which adds to the organic nature of the piece, and there are still nicks and scratches throughout the run time, though never overly distracting. In all this is a decent enough print, not sure it deserves the moniker of ‘re-mastered’ but it is clean and bright and better looking than ever before.
Just the one sound track to choose from; English dts-HD Master Audio stereo. This is a purely functional track that manages to convey all its information without distortion or crackle. Dialogue is clear and precise and sound very natural. Effects are very limited and amount to galloping horses and the occasional musket shot. The best use of the speakers is Paul Ferris’ sweeping score which is given a terrific representation and uses the deepest of the bass. Bass, itself, is severely limited and is only used to beef up the musket shots and ground the score, there are no LF effects. In all this is a decent functional track, it does contain a little hiss when wound up to reference, but it’s not that intrusive, and is never shrill or hard on the ears, even at top volume.
- Audio Commentary – With Benjamin Halligan, friend and biographer of Michael Reeves and Michael Armstrong, also friend and employee of Tigon British Film Productions, but more significantly the director of Mark of the Devil, a pure exploitation film which drew everything it was from Witchfinder. These two introduce themselves and proceed to chat about everything from Ogilvy’s swagger reminding them of Reeves to the critical storm the film produced upon its initial release, both sides of the Atlantic. Their talk meanders around the film and often shoots off at tangents, making for an engaging but, at time, off beat discussion that feels completely off the cuff – I actually liked this style even if much of what they discuss is common knowledge if you have any interest in Reeves and his short life. Nevertheless it covers a lot of ground, with very few pauses and is well worth a listen.
- The Blood Beast: The films of Michael Reeves - This is a very in depth documentary, considering its short running time, and encompasses interviews with all the main cast and crew of this film. The whole thing comes across as what a waste, rather than what a talent, and rightly so, Reeves has left a lasting legacy, one can only wonder what he would have achieved had he lived.
- Bloody Crimes: Witchcraft – is a TV show from 2002 which talked about various historical crimes, including poaching, highway robbery or smuggling; this particular episode concentrates on witchcraft and journalist/presenter Brian McNerney discusses the various barbaric injustices of the witch trials in Maidstone and Chelmsford in the 17th century and continues to the grisly fate of the many innocent women in Kent and Essex.
- Vincent Price on Aspel and Company – Very brief interview with Price on this early evening chat show, where he displays a rapier wit and some genuinely entertaining stories about his life and work – he’s sprightly and keeps his host well on his toes.
- Intrusion – Is a short, silent, black and white film from 1961 by Michael Reeves, that can be played with or without commentary from Halligan and Armstrong. Terrible quality, of course, and is about a home intrusion by two strangers and the subsequent rescue of the wife, by her husband/boyfriend – it shows an emerging talent and the two commentators are quick to point out how it was developed, the inspiration for the shots and general chit chat about a film that virtually no one has ever seen.
- Alternate Scenes from Export Version – is bar room wenches scene with all their flesh on show.
- Alternate Opening and Closing credits – the American credits, entitled The Conqueror Worm, with Price narrating some lines from Poe’s poem of the same name.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Stills Gallery – a selection of still form the film play to the accompaniment of the score.
So there we have it, a pretty decent selection of extras for a film that was once to wickedly received. Most of these have never seen the light of day before with the highlight for me being the commentary and Reeves’ short film. It’s worth noting that even though the film is Region free, the extras are PAL encoded so do not play on a USA PS3.
Masterpiece is a word too often banded about, but for Witchfinder General it can be aptly applied. Working as an excellent horror, the film could also be viewed as a social commentary on mans ingenuity to thrive in the most horrible of times, or equally as a historical piece. Reeves has created a multi-layered film experience, uncompromising in its brutality and unflinching in its portrayal of it, this film is as nasty as the character it describes and it has lost none of it raw power or shock value.
As a Blu-ray Odeon have produced an excellent disc, the film has never looked or sounded better and is now graced with some very worthy extras and thus should be a compulsory buy for any self respecting horror fan.
Remember the tag line though “LEAVE THE CHILDREN AT HOME...If YOU are squeamish stay home with them!”
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.99
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