Retro Review: Vincent Price at His Most Evil and Sadistic in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, Splatter Cinema’s September Movie

Posted on: Sep 12th, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

Splatter Cinema Presents WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUEROR WORM) (1968); Dir: Michael Reeves; Starring: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy; Tues. Sept. 13; 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

ATLRetro’s excited – one of our favorite horror movies of all time is coming to the Plaza Theatre for an ultra-rare 35 mm screening this week as the cool ghouls at Splatter Cinema present WITCHFINDER GENERAL, the notorious 1968 British wench burning fest starring the fabulous Vincent Price at his most evil.

Recut and retitled THE CONQUEROR WORM by American International Pictures for the US market (the title is a steal from an Edgar Allan Poe poem to make people think it was another Price-Poe flick), this movie is for my money Saint Vincent’s best, most brutal and sadistic performance, a study in ice-cold evil. The print of this much-censored movie the Splatter gang are screening is a British X-rated one, which, sadly, doesn’t include the restored footage from a UK DVD released a few years ago. But since most of the shocking, sadistic, violent footage has been lost over the years, this isn’t a big deal – except for purists such as myself – as this film packs a punch to the guts regardless. (Only seconds were trimmed from several scenes, tightening some of the torture and longer takes of witches being burned alive – material that’s long been a source of conjecture amongst obsessive fans. The screenplay was pre-censored by the British Board of Film Censors before a foot of film was shot back in the ‘60s.

Based on the turgid 1966 historical novel by Ronald Bassett, the film has its roots in truth but is a seriously fictionalized account of the infamous exploits of 17th century self-styled “witchfinder” Matthew Hopkins, who committed hundreds of atrocities during the English civil war as Royalists fought Parliamentary forces for control of the countryside, staining the verdant pastures red. The real Hopkins was a sadistic misogynist who lined his pockets by extracting confessions from innocent women who were accused of witchcraft by paranoid villagers. As played by Price, the character is a power-hungry, puritanical, sexually repressed manipulator of the first order who meets his match in Richard Marshall, a young soldier played by Ian Ogilvy (best known for playing sleuth Simon Templar in the ‘70s Brit TV series THE RETURN OF THE SAINT). When Hopkins and his vile assistant, Stearne, victimize a vicar and his daughter, the soldier’s true love, vengeance becomes the order of the day, and Marshall abandons his political convictions, going crazy as he hunts down and confronts the men who have destroyed his life.

 

Richard Marshall (Ian Ogilvy) and Vincent Price in WITCHFINDER GENERAL, aka THE CONQUEROR WORM. Photo credit: AIP

Written and directed by Michael Reeves, a very young, ambitious director, whom critics hailed as the Great White Hope of British horror cinema, this movie turned out to be his swan song as he died at age 25 of an accidental drug overdose shortly after completing the film. His next scheduled project was THE OBLONG BOX (1969), another Price-Poe vehicle, and one wonders how that would have turned out considering Price couldn’t stand the young director, whom he thought arrogant and disliked the way he was being commanded as an actor – which makes Price’s understated performance even more tribute-worthy.

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Retro Review: Splatter Cinema and the Cinevision Screening Room Shine a 35mm Light on Hannibal Lecter with THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS!

Posted on: Feb 18th, 2015 By:

silence-of-the-lamb-posterSplatter Cinema and Enjoy the Film present THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991); Dir. Jonathan Demme; Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Ted Levine; Saturday, Feb. 21 @ 8:30 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room; Tickets $10 (cash only); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema returns to the Cinevision Screening Room with the help of Enjoy the Film! This time, they’re delivering a 35mm archival print of what is probably the most celebrated mainstream horror film of the 1990s: Jonatham Demme’s staggering THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But don’t be fooled by its widespread appeal. Demme serves up a disturbing dinner of pure horror. With some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Trivia time: how many horror films have won Academy Awards? Precisely one—Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Sure, you could make an argument that it’s not really a horror film, but a police procedural or crime thriller. However, if the horror film has taught us anything, it’s that some of its best examples transcend the artificial divisions of genre and the common tropes to be found therein. Michael Reeves’ 1968 masterpiece WITCHFINDER GENERAL, for instance, could be accurately described as simply a period drama depicting the all-too-human hypocrisy and fear-mongering of a 17th century opportunist who falsely labels his victims “witches” to further his power-grabbing. But that doesn’t dilute the weighty sense of pure horror that pervades and permeates the entire film. Likewise, LAMBS cannot be excised from the horror genre by a reductive view of its mechanics. Its function is to frighten, to shock. To horrify. And Demme knows how to twist nerves alongside conventions.

The plot is something that could have come out of any television franchise (and has been copied by many on multiple occasions): a serial killer is on the loose, and the only way to capture him is by turning to an imprisoned serial killer for assistance. Simple enough. But it’s in the details and execution that the film’s true horror is summoned.

The imprisoned serial killer is the infamous cannibal psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), whose game plan for liberation involves offering up information in exchange for weaseling into the mind of the investigating FBI officer, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). Starling is seeking out murderer Jame Gumb (Ted Levine), nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” in honor of his penchant for skinning his female victims’ corpses. The film does not shy away from Gumb’s deeply disturbing actions, which are based on the gruesome case histories of Ted Bundy and Ed Gein (Gein having been the inspiration for horror films such as DERANGED, PSYCHO and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE), among other real-life serial killers.silencehannibal

But while the portions of the film devoted to Gumb are the source of incredible dread, it’s the shadow of Lecter that extends over the entire film that provides so much of its horrors. From his gothic-influenced asylum cell, Lecter’s influence over the movie’s proceedings colors every frame. Whether it’s how he directs Starling’s perception of every event that takes place or how the audience constantly questions in what manner he will use those events to his advantage later on, his presence is felt throughout. And from what we know of him, this presence can be nothing but malevolent. When the film culminates in pulse-pounding setpieces of tension and repulsion, we do not walk out of the film having been thrilled. We walk out having been put through the ringer and looking over our shoulders.

Though the performances of Hopkins, Foster and Levine are all vitally important to the film’s success, as is the screenplay by Ted Tally and the source novel by Thomas Harris, SILENCE is largely Demme’s show. In the hands of a director with less genre experience, the almost surreal sense of the gothic in Lecter’s scenes and the seedy feel of Gumb’s house of horrors might have been toned down. The temptation would be to make Lecter’s environs clinical and sterile (as his Atlanta-based cell in the High Museum is depicted in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER, based on Thomas Harris’ earlier novel RED DRAGON), and Gumb’s small-town home more under-the-radar normal. But Demme—then an arthouse fave for MELVIN AND HOWARD, SOMETHING WILD, STOP MAKING SENSE, MARRIED TO THE MOB and SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA—came from the world of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. There he labored on exploitation movies like ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME and THE HOT BOX before directing such twisted takes on 1970s genre fare as CAGED HEAT and CRAZY MAMA. Under Corman’s tutelage, he learned his way around the worlds of exploitation and horror filmmaking, and applied those lessons well to this big-budget studio project. (Corman himself gets a cameo appearance as a Congressman.)

clariceIt’s a masterful evocation of influences from horror and exploitation’s past, and Demme conjures these elements in a subtle way, melding them with a more “mainstream” Hollywood approach that manages both to satisfy genre aficionados and invite in a more general public. It’s an approach that has been mirrored by the contemporary TV series HANNIBAL in its own telling of the mad doctor’s exploits. Meanwhile, Demme also manages to echo his earlier work for Corman by playing around with expected gender politics and slyly undercutting authority figures without alienating his audience. Demme is sure-footed every inch of the way, and while many of his films are as good, I’d be hard-pressed to say that any of them surpass this achievement. And for once, I agree wholeheartedly with the Academy voters who awarded this film Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay—only one of three films in history to sweep all five top awards.

As 35mm presentations are becoming rarer and rarer, it becomes exponentially more important to catch landmark films such as this—well-projected in their intended format—when the chance arises. That’s why I’m thrilled that Splatter Cinema is bringing this to Cinevision Screening Room in partnership with ATLRetro Kool Kat Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film. Ben has long been committed to expert 35mm projection, and his presentation of this archival print should be a beautiful experience. Add in the fun that Splatter brings to every screening they host, and you’ve got an event that cannot be missed.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Tis The Season to Be Spooky: A Torturous Journey into the Chambers of Horror, Atlanta’s Most Extreme Halloween Attraction with Mad Mastermind Luke Godfrey

Posted on: Oct 21st, 2011 By:

Atlanta’s only Halloween haunted attraction inside the Perimeter, Gorehound Productions‘ Chambers of Horror doesn’t settle for the usual scares. Definitely not for everyone, the adults-only haunt behind The Masquerade, open every night in October and the first weekend of November, aims to be the most extreme in ultra-violence, depravity and gore, and from our recent visit, we can testify they succeed and then some.

Grab a drink at the Splatter Bar, then head down the hill to see a short news clip by intrepid Atlanta reporter Monica Coffin, which reveals that a black van bearing the logo of Chambers of Horror has been spotted near the mysterious disappearances of several locals. All of which is meant to wander if you’ll be taking a one-way journey through the meat-locker-metal doors of Torture Co. And beyond, indeed, the emphasis is on realism of the sickest kind, nothing supernatural but torture of all kinds—fire, assorted blades, chainsaw, firearms and even a gynecological scene so sensationalistic that it makes Cronenberg’s DEAD RINGERS seem like a Disney movie. Inside it’s more vignettes of increasingly shocking and gory body mutilation than monsters jumping out of dark corners. The acting is unnervingly good from torturers to victims, but it’s no fun to reveal too much. Much of it draws from contemporary splatter—though that has its roots in the limits pushed by Fulci, Argento and Clive Barker. A nod to the dungeons of Hammer and AIP’s Poe pictures, though, can be found in the Torture Museum, exhibiting Medieval gadgetry that Vincent Price’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL might have employed with gruesome glee in a dank dungeon. And then there’s a certain minister of mayhem, but hush, we can’t tell you any more except everything is meant to make more than uncomfortable and maybe, like a certain movie also playing this week, scream DEAR GOD NO!

ATLRetro managed to chain up Luke Godfrey, one of the mad masterminds behind Chambers, to get a sneak peek inside. And while we had him talking, we got him to confess a little about some of his other creepy contributions to Atlanta’s thriving horror scene as one of the co-creators of the Zombie Walk Atlanta (Sun. Oct. 16); Splatter Cinema, which won the Creative Loafing readers’ award for Best Film Series again this year, and is presenting a Halloween bonus screening this month of Lucio Fulci’s 1979 cult classic ZOMBIE (Fri. Oct. 21) at the Plaza Theatre; and the Buried Alive Film Fest, which rises again at the Plaza, Nov. 10-12.

Photo Credit: Thomas Kerns.

ATLRetro: How and when did Chambers of Horror get started?

Luke: In 2009 After doing horror events like Zombie Walk, Atlanta Horrorfest, Splatter Cinema, and an adults-only haunted house in the basement of the Graveyard Tavern called Crypt of Terror, I received a phone call from a good friend, Rene Arriagada, a local artist and event producer, asking me if I would like to start up a haunted house with him. I brought in my partner in Gorehound Productions, Ian O’Brien, and we began the creation of the sickest thing this city has ever seen.

What separates Chambers from Atlanta’s other haunts? 

Chambers is about as sick and twisted as you can get. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen—pushing the limits and boundaries to an extent that really sets peoples nerves on edge. We are an adults-only attraction with a full bar and there are many reasons for that. We kicked all the monsters—ghouls, goblins and zombies—out the f—ing door to make room for real horror. It’s like being dropped right in the middle of a SAW or HOSTEL-type movie. All well-trained actors delivering skits that will have you on the floor screaming in fear or crying in laughter. We hold hard to the 18+ policy due to extreme situations, simulated nudity and vulgar language. It’s real. It’s just like what you would expect at an R-rated movie—no censoring here.

Photo Credit: Thomas Kerns.

Definitely more of the SAW/ HOSTEL/ torture porn genre. We want to keep with the times and do something none else is doing. I love the classics and zombies and the such, but there’s a place for that and we are not it. No rednecks in overalls here; we have people in suits and ties cutting titties off.

What’s new and different in this year?

Lots of new actors, some seriously amazing new additions to our cast that really bring our show together, as well as many new rooms and additions. We amped up the gore and skin throughout the entire place. I mention simulated nudity before, yeah…there’s a lot more of it this year.

Without giving too much away, do you have a favorite scene or one that you’d like to especially warn visitors about?

Three words….”I got peed on”

How long did it take to create the sets? Any behind-the-scenes trivia or secrets?

Myself and Rene have been at it since February of this year—building most of the props ourselves and coming up with some ridiculous ideas. Many people ask us “how the hell do you come up with this shit?” Our constant reply is “lots of drunken nights sitting in rooms and spurting off some of the most ridiculous ideas ever.” I really wish someone was around recording some of our impossible and bad ideas.

How many zombies participated in last Sunday’s walk and how did that go?

I would say we probably had around 750 zombies this year. We did over 1000 last year and it was way outta control. I warned everybody that I would punch them in the face if they stepped out of line and its seemed to work. Everybody was really cool and respectful to both Wonderroot where we started and Oakland Cemetery. I was very pleased with the walk this year. It was awesome.

Splatter Cinema is presenting a bonus show this month of Fulci’s ZOMBIE. What do you love about that movie and what else is coming up for Splatter?

Whats not to love. It’s gory as hell. I think my favorite scene is the eyeball splinter scene. I love Fulci’s eye torture gags. They are ridiculous. The one from THE BEYOND always gets me, too, with the spiders,

The Buried Alive Film Festival is also right around the corner. What can you share about this year’s line-up and is there anything Retro or Retro-inspired?

We do have an film called CHILLERAMA that has a bunch of grindhouse/retro shorts from different acclaimed directors. It’s a pretty awesome flick. Definitely the highlight of the fest this year. As CHILLERAMA’s Website states, “In the spirit of classic anthology films like CREEPSHOW and TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and containing films that not only celebrate the golden age of drive-in B horror shlock but also span over four decades of cinema, CHILLERAMA offers something for every bad taste. With titles like Wadzilla, I Was a Teenage Werebear, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein and Zom-B-Movie and featuring appearances by Joel David Moore (AVATAR), Lin Shaye (INSIDIOUS), Ray Wise (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS), Kane Hodder (FRIDAY THE 13TH), Eric Roberts (THE DARK KNIGHT) and more cameos than you can count, CHILLERAMA is sure to have you screaming for more. From the depraved minds of Adam Rifkin (DETROIT ROCK CITY), Tim Sullivan (2001 MANIACS), Adam Green (FROZEN), and Joe Lynch (WRONG TURN 2).

Finally gotta ask, you’ve built an entire career/lifestyle around horror. How did you get into horror and what’s the appeal to you?

I was exposed to horror at a pretty early age. NIGHTMARE (ON ELM STREET) and Freddy Krueger were a pretty regular occurrence. My mom is a huge horror fan, too, and was always letting me watch the stuff. Or I would sneak up after hours to catch some cheesy after hours horror flicks. I just love the rush I get from horror films. They don’t scare me anymore, but they still get me pumped when I find a good flick that somehow manages to surprise me with something new.

Chambers of Horror is open seven evenings a week for the entire month of October and the first weekend of November and offers many ticket options from $17 general admission to a limited $45 VIP Pass (which includes getting to skip the line and a free drink) to satisfy even the most discerning torture connoisseur at Ticketmaster.com. No one under 18 admitted.

 

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This Week in Retro Atlanta, Sept. 12-18, 2011

Posted on: Sep 11th, 2011 By:

Monday Sept. 12

From 3 PM on, savor tropical sounds and libations, as well as a Polynesian dinner during Mai Tai Monday at Smith’s Olde BarNorthside Tavern hosts its weekly Blues Jam.

Tuesday Sept. 13

See horror icon Vincent Price in his most sadistic role in WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUEROR WORM), this month’s Splatter Cinema at Plaza Theatre. Arrive early at 9 p.m. for the usual free photo-op in an unbelievably realistic recreation of a scene from the movie; showtime for the rare opportunity to see the 1968 fright feature in a 35mm print on the big screen is at 9:30 p.m., including incredible classic horror trailers. Read our Retro Review by Philip Nutman here.

Grab your horn and head to Twain’s in Decatur for a Joe Gransden jazz jam session starting at 9 PM. Fedora Blues is at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Notorious DJ Romeo Cologne spins ‘70s funk and disco at 10 High in Virginia-Highland. Catch Tues. Retro in the Metro nights at Midtown’s Deadwood Saloon, featuring video mixes of ’80s, ’90s and 2Ks hits.

Wednesday Sept. 14

Ding-Dong the Wicked Witch is the Hero?! That’s the premise of the Broadway hit musical WICKED, an upside-down retelling of the 1939 movie version of THE WIZARD OF OZ which starts a nearly month-long run today. And we can’t think of a more magical place for the touring production to stage than 1929 movie palace the Fabulous Fox Theatre. If you’re on a budget, come to the box office 2 1/2 hours before showtime (Tues.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 6:30 p.m. & matinees Sat at 2 p.m. & Sun. at 1 p.m.) and submit your name for daily drawings of limited last-minute $25 orchestra seat tickets. Read our exclusive interview with former Atlanta actor Mark Jacoby, who plays the Wizard, here.

Gunslinger UK broke up in the early ’80s but are back in a new incarnation led by original bassist Alan Davey, who went on to play for over two decades with Hawkwind, and playing The Masquerade tonight. Get ready to rumba, cha-cha and jitterbug at the weekly Swing Night at Graveyard Tavern. The Hollidays bringing some soul to Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck blues it down at Northside Tavern. Dance to ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s hits during Retro in the Metro Wednesdays presented by Godiva Vodka, at Pub 71 in Brookhaven.

Thursday  Sept. 15

The gorgeous goddesses of Minette Magnifique present MARCH OF THE MUSES: A BURLESQUE INSPIRATION, a mythology-themed show fit for Zeus, the King of the Greek Gods. Rumor has it he looked down from Mount Olympus, took his mighty staff and with thunder decreed: “The House of Minette shall build a shrine to the Muses filled with dancing, singing, poetry comedy and, OF COURSE, beautiful boobies to make Hera jealous and Aphrodite proud!” Who are they but not to defy the Supreme Ruler of the Gods? This sexy insurrection takes place at the Warren City Club at 818 Highland Ave., doors 8 p.m., Act I at 9 p.m. and Act 2 at 10:15 p.m. If you missed them, catch up on our Kool Kats on Minette’s Madame Willey here and Baroness VonSchmalhausen here.

Roger Daltrey performs The Who‘s TOMMY live at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park in Alpharetta. Go Retro-Polynesian to Tongo Hiti’s luxurious live lounge sounds, as well as trippy takes on iconic pop songs, every Thurs. night at Trader Vic’s. Honky tonk it with Whiskey Belt who continue their all-September Thursday night free gigs at Kathmandu Kitchen(formerly Pho Truc) in Clarkston. Party ‘70s style with DJ Romeo Cologne at Aurum LoungeBreeze Kings Chickenshack bring on the blues respectively at Northside Tavern and Fat Matt’s Rib Shack.

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