I've mentioned on MOVIE MAGAZINE (on air) that Vincent Price's greatest role was that of Matthew Hopkins in "The Conqueror Worm." A couple of friends have asked me about the movie, and, since it's one of my ten favorite horror movies, I thought it time I got around to reviewing it. Made in 1968, "The Conqueror Worm," known as "Witchfinder General" in the UK, was the last movie made by twenty-four year-old horror-movie genius, Michael Reeves. Reeves supposedly killed himself soon after making "The Conqueror Worm." Judging by the depressingly bleak sense of powerless despair that saturates this movie the way tears saturate a widow's veil, I don't doubt he did himself in.
The movie is set in 1648, the time of Cromwell. Price plays, in a venom dripping tour-de-force, a sociopathic, sadistic witch-finder who uses his position to gain money, sex and power. This ISN'T the cuddly sort of eccentric Vincent Price you're used to. He gleefully and piously goes about the countryside with his scurvy, rapist henchman, played by Robert Russell. Price and Russell cross paths with Ian Ogilvy and Hillary Dwyer, a young soldier and his fiancee, and destroy the couple's world. Ogilvy begins a campaign of revenge against Price that doesn't end in victory, but a sort of horrible draw.
Reeves pretty blatantly transposed the generational conflict of 1968 onto the 17th century, perhaps a bit hyperbolically. But the only other movie that presents such a hopeless struggle against monstrously corrupt power that comes close to "The Conqueror Worm" is Polanski's "Chinatown," especially in terms of bleak endings. By the way... Vincent Price thought this was his best role, too. I'm in good company on this call, huh? On our headbanger scale of 1-4, "The Conqueror Worm" gets four headbangs.
Copyright 1996 Mike Marano
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