“I will find out the truth for you, have no fear.”
Very few films communicate the tyrannical terror of religious authority as profoundly as Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General. It incorporates all the classical gothic elements that come with Vincent Price, but with splashes of unrelenting realism for a little added bite.
The story is fairly simple and follows the deranged exploits of the Witchfinder, Matthew Hopkins, as he rides across the countryside torturing and murdering anyone he deems as being involved with witchcraft. He abuses his power and tosses around his condemnations seemingly without care for the blood he’s shedding. The character truly is a righteous monster. But, how does he get away with it? He’s allowed to slaughter the innocent only because he claims to be divinely guided. This is the unsettling nature of religion’s moral high ground.
People eagerly give up their own sense of right and wrong once someone brings religion into the equation – it’s not the Witchfinder who wants to see women burn, it’s god. And so the people watch as their friends and family are burnt alive because of their unwillingness to question .
What inspires such deplorable complacency? Well, that brings us to the last film on the list…