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Witchfinder General (Blu-ray)

Review by: 
Black Gloves
AKA: 
The Conqueror Worm
Release Date: 
1968
Studio: 
Odeon Entertainment
Genre: 
Horror
Format: 
Blu-ray
Region: 
All
Aspect Ratio: 
1.85:1
Directed by: 
Michael Reeves
Cast: 
Vincent Price
Ian Ogilvy
Robert Russell
Hilary Dwyer
Rupert Davies
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
5
Video: 
Click to Play

The sun, as it glances through the branches of a forest of leafless trees, forms the appearance of a glowing crucifix illuminating a serene English autumn sky. That is the haunting opening shot of Michael Reeves’ masterpiece, “Witchfinder General” -- a film quite unlike any other in the annals of the British horror film, although one now justly revered, and retrospectively included at the head of a small but significant coterie of works -- such as “Blood on Satan’s Claw” and “The Wicker Man” – that, for an all-too-brief period in the late 1960s and early-‘70s, sought to supersede the primary coloured storybook Gothic style once so powerfully embodied by Hammer Films, with its 1950s-patented fairy-tale certainties in the nature of good and evil and in the simple division between them.  This handful of films also consciously aimed to replace the tried and tested templates of British horror with a complexity and immediacy of style that was uniquely specific and relevant to the place of their birth and to the age that had produced them, even as they rejected the spent formulae of Hammer and its old-fashioned ilk. They sought to locate more realistic tenebrous horrors within a much earthier context, defined by the violent convulsions of Britain’s unique history and by the suggestive idyll of a rural landscape that had, in previous centuries, played host to tumultuous horrors that formed and indelibly marked the very character of these Isles. Unfortunately, fate would have it that this promising new development would fail to take root: Reeves emerged from the making of “Witchfinder General” with nerves frayed and energies drained and would soon-after die from an accidental overdose of sleeping pills, leaving Hammer to struggle on for many more years yet -- attempting to adapt and modify its older methods and style to a harsh new age in which the emerging social and political realities, post-Summer of Love, made the company’s simple, faux historical costume horrors seem irrelevant, stale and passé -- despite the occasional isolated oasis of creative success such as “Twins of Evil” or “Demons of the Mind”. 

“Witchfinder General” offers the merest tantalising glimpse of what could have been; only “The Wicker Man” comes anywhere near as close to emulating its powerful visual contrast between a sense of implacable, beatific indifference inherent in the eternal cycles of nature, and the explosive cauldron of humanity’s superstitious passions being passed down the ages yet existing always in a timeless verdant landscape. Filmed on location in Suffolk during a wet rainy autumn between the months of September and October of 1967, the film was destined to capture the darkening mood of the times like few other British films of its vintage, despite it being a period-bound piece, set in the middle of the seventeenth century. “Witchfinder General” embodies Reeves’ own quite personal vision and insecurities, and brings to vivid life his prescient ideas about the permeability of good and evil when violence takes over, and it happened to come at a time when such a message couldn’t have had greater relevance to contemporary events despite the setting’s remoteness in time. While George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” heralded the rebirth of North American Horror with its modern-day detachment and its pessimistic summation of a country torn by racial strife and youth protest against a foreign fought war, “Witchfinder General” is as close as the traditional British Horror scene ever came to finding its own specific voice in this grim new era of political violence and protest. The film has been all the more treasured by its supporters, poured over and minutely studied, for its proving to be more a still-birth or a false dawn than of a fruitful new flowering for British horror films; and because it represents such a vast leap in quality and filmmaking maturity by a relatively inexperienced twenty-three-year-old director, that it is difficult to say what else he could have gone on to achieve had he lived.

The film takes place against a backdrop of great social unrest and societal chaos, with the ensuing breakdown in ordinary social structures and in law and order which came about as a result of the outbreak of the English Civil War (part of the War of Three Kingdoms, which erupted across England, Scotland and Ireland in response to the Crown’s contentious religious reforms -- between 1638 and 1651) when England’s  belligerent Puritan-dominated Parliament raised an army to fight the Royalist forces loyal to the person of King Charles 1st , after his failed attempt to storm parliament and have his chief political opponents arrested. It was released in May 1968 -- just after the Battle of Grosvenor Square (ironically also the exclusive site of the sumptuous European production offices of AIP, the film’s American backers) which came about after a 25,000 strong anti-Vietnam protest in London’s Mayfair district resulted in mounted police brutally clubbing a crowd of pacifist student protestors – and also the same month in which Paris erupted in violence and mayhem as a result of its unprecedented student revolts.

The battle between the young and old, the corrupt Establishment versus the idealistic, utopian dreams of youth, finds its mirror image in Reeves’ portrait of an England riven by religious turmoil and unreasoning hatred and superstition. But there is no comfort to be gleaned from its unsparing portrayal of hypocrisy and malevolence on the part of the film’s villains -- the self-anointed protectors of order and decency who just happen to find that there’s also a tidy profit to be made in restoring public confidence through organised brutality – for Reeves shows how their violence taints and corrupts the very voices raised against it; revenge breeds its own form of madness and the cycle is destined to continue with increasing quantities of blood spilled on all sides. The film’s bleak, unsparingly downbeat conclusion was destined to be played out in contemporary society as the innocent hippy dreams of the Peace & Love movement disintegrated and took on a new misshapen form that had the blood-stained face of Altamont and the Manson Family.

“Witchfinder General” came about after producer Tony Tensor saw the galley proofs of an historical novel by the author Ronald Bassett, and decided it would make an excellent prestige project for his newly-formed Tigon British Film Productions. Originally, the idea had been to team his new find, the young director Michael Reeves, back up with the legendary Boris Karloff, who was to have played the lead role in the project (the two has just recently forged a very fruitful working relationship together on the “The Sorcerers”, Reeves’ previous film) but that idea was soon discarded due to the veteran horror actor’s rapidly failing health. The original novel had been based on the exploits of a real-life 17th Century Witchfinder called Matthew Hopkins, and his dogmatically puritan assistant John Stearne. This macabre duo operated in and around the East Anglia region during the period 1645-1647, travelling from village to village after being summoned by locals to interrogate those suspected of being witches or of dabbling in the occult. Although belief in witches and occasional hangings for those accused of such activities had been a fixed feature of life in England since at least Tudor times, Hopkins presided over the hanging of a remarkable number of people for witchcraft and devilry, successfully extracting confessions using an array of freakily modern-sounding torture methods grounded in sleep deprivation and physical torture such as ‘pricking’ for dead spots as a sign of the third nipple (from which witches were believed to feed blood to their familiars), and the inhuman practice of ducking: a method of drowning carried out in the belief that witches spurned baptismal water and so would always float, thus proving their guilt.

In this kind of hysterical climate, pet ownership could be considered a suspicious sign if you happened to be an old or cantankerous woman, and Catholicism was of course always synonymous in protestant England with devil worship, enabling Hopkins, for instance, to victimise the eighty-year-old vicar of Brandeston during the course of his reign of terror, simply because his parishioners found him and his services disagreeable. (The Catholics, meanwhile, were themselves busy in Europe burning to death thousands in the cause of rooting out witchcraft.) Little is known for sure about Hopkins’ life other than that he was the son of a Puritan clergyman and perhaps in later years a failed lawyer. He had no mandate from Parliament for his activities, but such was the disorganised state of things during the civil war years, that Hopkins needed scant authority other than the blessing of the local justice of the peace and the prejudices of the people in order to pursue his trade, making himself a nice profit at the expense of the lives of hundreds of men and women in doing so; the town of Ipswich is believed to have required the levying of a special local tax just in order to pay the fee for his services! Ironically, so successful was Hopkins in seeking out and detecting huge numbers of alleged witches in a remarkably short space of time, that many superstitious people came to suspect that he himself was in league with the Devil, eventually forcing Hopkins to defend himself in print (“The Discovery of Witches” by Mathew Hopkins is downloadable from Project Guttenberg for free, if you really want to soak up the atmosphere of the age) – such are the workings of what Carl Sagan would later term the demon haunted mind.

Michael Reeves came to the project with fierce commitment and a determination to prove himself on the big stage in what was effectively his first major picture. He and screenwriter Tom Baker from the start envisioned Donald Pleasance in the role of Matthew Hopkins – the kind of actor who in appearance was the quintessential embodiment of the petty bureaucrat they imagined Hopkins to be in their script. Instead, American International Pictures, in the form of its Head of European Productions, Louis ‘Deke’ Heyward, insisted that contract player Vincent Price should be flown in to take the part so that the film could be later sold in America as an adjunct to their Edgar Allen Poe cycle -- a decision that immediately incensed Reeves. 

Other interferences by AIP (who were supplying half the money for what was still a modestly mounted production that required speedy and efficient work on the part of the close-knit crew if it was to stand any chance of coming in on budget) would further antagonise the young and nervy director, but it’s fair to say that the shoot was dominated by the frosty relations between Reeves and Price. Things apparently got off to a bad start when the star was thrown from his mount on the first day of shooting and Reeves ignored his bruised lead actor, who spent the rest of the day brooding in his hotel room. As Price attempted to ham his way through the film, not realising it was ever intended to be anything other than yet another throwaway terror picture, Reeves arduously and persistently insisted on forcing him to tone down the theatricality of his performance, eventually leading to the famous exchange in which a frustrated Price intoned ‘Young man – I have made ninety-seven films, how many have you made?’ To which Reeves shot back ‘two good ones!’ 

By hook or by crook, Reeves did somehow coax a performance from Price which remains one of the most striking of the actor’s career. It literally had to be eked out of him though; even after the bombardment of instructions from the director to stop nodding his head, to stop moving his arms around while delivering his lines and to stop shifting his feet about so much, the commanding enactment of cold, lizard-eyed evil that constitutes Price’s portrayal of Hopkins, would require wholesale redubbing afterwards when Reeves realised that the actor had still been intoning his lines in his customary lip-smacking, booming theatrical style. In fact, the performances of both Price and his co-star Robert Russell, who plays the brutish John Stearne beside him, needed to be entirely redubbed: Price came back to re-voice his own performance in much more understated terms, but Russell’s wholly inappropriate soft, lilting tones were re-dubbed by Bernard Kay, who also appears elsewhere in the film as a fisherman who briefly crops up in a scene on the Norfolk coast proclaiming himself unaware that there is even a war on when Cromwell’s Roundheads interview him while they’re hunting King Charles after the battle of Naseby.

As slowly and painfully extracted as the performance may have had to have been, and despite many fans and critics still voicing the opinion that Price is wrong for the part, he is in fact quite perfect in the finished film. There’s a central mystery about just how credulous or cynical Price’s Hopkins actually is about the work he and Stearne do, that only amplifies the scariness at the icy heart of the character; ultimately he’s like so many sociopathic war criminals still seen today – preening, self-important sadists, elevated by the chaos of war from nobodies into monsters when circumstance allows them indiscriminately to act out their lusts for power. Price’s Hopkins seems more desirous for the thrill of sadistic pleasure than the twenty shillings-a-hanging he and Stearne are able to command, though while his cohort is portrayed as a boorish, drunken brute, Hopkins affects a hypocritical cultured air of being above such things. Price and Russell are able to play off of each other brilliantly in illustrating this dynamic: the stately Hopkins provides the air of legitimacy an animalistic lout like Stearne needs for his violent behaviour, while Stearne carries out the beatings, tortures and violent interrogations the repressed Hopkins evidently gleans some degree of buried voyeuristic pleasure from witnessing.

From its opening pre-credit sequence onward, “Witchfinder General” establishes a remarkable lyrical atmosphere that belies the brutality of much of the content with a mise-en-scene that emphasises throughout the vast swathes of autumnal English landscape that separate the tiny, isolated huddles of humanity we see governed by their fear of the unknown. The film is dominated by sights and sounds of quiet peacefulness and by a blissful bucolic splendour that defines the English countryside – the gold-green-brown colours of the landscape, the swaying of branches in the wind and the soft bleat of sheep in the distance – but which is also naturally a home to the grim-faced processions of onlookers – men, women and children – seen gathering in silence as the wind mingles with the piercing screams of the accused, simply staring blank-eyed and fearful, tiny dots on the land, at the abrupt cessation of these pleadings and the gentle creak of the gibbet that replaces them, as a limp body sways from a rope in the hillside breeze.

Despite the unrelenting images of torture, pain and horror instigated by human evil and unreasoning prejudice punctuating the otherwise fairly routine revenge story which forms the backbone of the film’s narrative, this human wickedness is always shown to exist in sporadic pockets, framed by the implacable calm of nature that surrounds and dwarfs it. Reeves shoots the crowds of people who follow and are manipulated by Hopkins as he drags his victims through various humiliations, to a moated grange to be floated or to a village square to witness his recently imported method of burning, always from above with God’s-eye-view crane shots or in landscape shots that employ a striking depth of field -- emphasising these figures’ insignificance with a cosmic, almost pantheistic view of nature, while firmly establishing them as part of the whole, rooting them and their actions to the land and subliminally implying a human nature eternally condemned to grapple with its capacity for both romantic, Utopian idealism and its petty vanities and hates and the violence that can result. The sense of isolation and the time it consequently takes for the characters to move about from place to place in the established landscape is one of the things that incidentally give the film the character of a western; although it would never have been possible on the film’s limited budget, the fact that we never see the civil war being fought (apart from a minor skirmish near the start) but only ever hear about it, and that there are people who are shown to not even be aware that there is a war on at all, only emphasises the fact that life took place in a land that was still mostly composed of wooded countryside dotted with small villages, and that communication between then could be infrequent and sporadic and a perfect breeding ground for hearsay and superstition.

The fantastic images of scenic beauty the film achieves can be attributed to two factors. First of all the authentic locations: the film was shot in Suffolk in the market town of Bury St Edmonds and in the medieval villages of Lavenham and Kersey, with additional sequences at Kentwell Hall in Long Melford for the scene in which Rupert Davies’ John Lowes is ‘floated’ in the moat, and at Orford Castle, where the final confrontation between Hopkins and the Roundhead Richard Marshall eventually plays out. The crew also had access to an army range which enabled them to film the long, sweeping panoramic vistas of English countryside and the horseback rides across them that contribute to the film’s reputation as one of the few English Westerns. The fact that the film was shot around the kind of locations in which the real Matthew Hopkins would have operated back in the 1640s certainly helps immeasurably to conjure an appropriate atmosphere, but the major contributor to the film’s rich invocation of pastoral English history is undoubtedly its cinematographer John Coquillon, a Canadian-born former documentary maker who really brings Reeves’ meticulous compositions to vivid life with his gorgeous, naturalistic lighting style; the same style that is clearly evident in his work on Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” four years later. The final element contributing to this unique recipe is the score by composer Paul Ferris. Ferris had once been part of a song-writing team with Nicky Henson, who appears in the film as Richard Marshall’s fellow cavalryman and best friend, Swallow, and the duo apparently wrote songs for Cliff Richard before Ferris took up film score writing. His Vaughn Williams-inspired pastiche of that composer’s orchestral arrangement for the traditional song Greensleeves, in particular, is one of the most memorable musical pieces from the score for “Witchfinder General”, perfectly complementing the rustic folk traditions that have their roots in the period, and forming a soothing romantic counterpoint to the onscreen bloodshed and the insanity which eventually takes over the onscreen events.

The story is almost the last thing worthy of mention, but is notable for its taking real historical figures and incorporating them into an entirely fictional Jacobean revenge tragedy that, once again, cannot but help remind one of the sorts of narratives we often see in Westerns, taking place in equally isolated townships along the American frontier. Reeves’ old school friend Ian Ogilvy plays Richard Marshall – a member of the newly formed professional army class founded by Oliver Cromwell in 1645. The film is set just before the turning point in the civil war that was the battle of Naseby, and Marshall is first seen as an idealistic solider, nervous and confused after making his first kill in the forest when his unit is ambushed by Royalist snipers. Marshall rides into Brandeston on leave to see his sweetheart Sara Lowes (played with apple-cheeked English Rose charm by Hilary Dwyer), daughter of the gentle vicar of Brandeston, John Lowes. The real John Lowes was an eighty year-old Catholic clergyman, but Rupert Davies is here made to look like Archbishop William Laud, the authority whose conflict with the Puritans over church reforms was a major factor in the slide to war. When Lowes is later persecuted by Witchfinder Matthew Hopkins (Price), who arrives in the village at the behest of jealous villagers and proceeds to subject the innocent man to the rigours of sleep deprivation through forced walking and pricking to uncover the Devil’s mark, Sara offers herself to Hopkins thinking that her father will be spared in consequence. After she is raped by Hopkins’ assistant John Stearne though, Hopkins loses all interest in her and allows Lowes to be hanged for witchcraft. After hearing of the troubles in Brandeston, Marshall risks court martial, deserts his appointed place of rendezvous with his unit at Naseby and hastily rides back to find his fiancé in despair, her father dead and his church and vicarage wrecked and defiled. Marshall takes a vow of revenge on Hopkins and rides on to Lavenham where the Witchfinder is busy organising the public burning of his next victim; but Richard’s youthful idealism is fated to be corrupted by an overwhelming desire for vengeance that will leave his fiancé deranged by madness and he mired in a numbing brutality from which there is no return.

While Price was forced on the film by AIP, Reeves was given a largely free hand in casting the rest of the roles with mostly unknown actors. There are a few concessions to British box office as well, though: Patrick Wymark was already appearing in a play at Bury St Edmonds so was available to provide a suitably warty cameo as Oliver Cromwell and also a scene-setting voice-over for the start of the film; slightly less necessary is an offputtingly camp appearance from Wilfred Bramble of “Steptoe & Son” fame, the comic actor essaying his usual comedy gurning technique as a horse trader in one mercifully short scene, and sounding exactly like Albert Steptoe with his ‘’so you’re a witchfinder eh? Oooooh, that’s nice!’ line.

Reeves’ film was inevitably a compromise, even with the extra money provided by AIP. The director had wanted to bring more of a sense of the war and its devastations to the screen, filling ditches with rotting corpses and staging re-enactments of major battles. But this was impossible for a small company like Tigon even on the extra money the American backing had brought to the project. One of these constraints -- the tight schedule -- ends up considerably improving the finale of film, though. The ending as seen in the finished version is actually an improvised scene, worked out between the director and the participating actors after the original plan to have Hopkins dispatched in a conflagration after being tipped into a vat of coals, had to be abandoned when time ran out and Price was booked to fly back to America to appear in an musical. Even then, the newly worked out ending originally involved actor Nicky Henson shooting Hopkins as the insane Marshall hacks away at him with an axe, then shooting his demented friend as well. Henson eventually pointed out that this was unworkable: a musket wasn’t a revolver – you couldn’t fire off endless shots with it! Thus, in the film, Henson kills Hopkins and the camera zooms in on the twisted, insane face of Richard Marshall, screaming ‘you took him away from me!’ over and over again as Hilary Dwyer’s similarly insane screams mingle with his deranged chant and both fade into the reprise of Ferris’ lilting theme. It’s one of the most powerfully disturbing conclusions in the British horror cannon.

The film in its English cut is one of the crowning glories of British horror cinema of the nineteen sixties, but AIP did their level best to ruin it for US audiences by having Price intone a ponderous Edgar Allan Poe poem over the first scene and again at the end, and by renaming the film “The Conqueror Worm” after it. The film was also plastered in ridiculous alternative versions of scenes shot for the continental market in some territories: tavern scenes during which one is furnished with the overwhelming impression that flirty young women habitually sat around topless in English country drinking establishments of the 17th century. These dubious contributions to the film actually earned AIP’s European head Louis Heyward a credit (‘additional material by …’) on the finished print! Years later, a rights issue would also mean that US audiences would be deprived of the original Paul Ferris score on subsequent VHS and laser disc releases, and had to put up with it being replaced by a generic synthesizer score by Kendall Schmidt until only a few years ago. The film inevitably caused controversy at the time for its perceived realistic violence and Reeves was exhausted both by his battles with the BBFC’s censor of the day, John Trevelyan, and with the media storm that ensued upon the film’s release, even going into print on numerous occasions to defend his work from sustained attacks by, among others, the playwright Alan Bennett. The last word should go to Vincent Price, though who, despite their strained relationship, penned Reeves a note after finally seeing the finished film. ‘Congratulations. The contrast of the superb scenery, and the brutality, the action the hero forces against the execrable almost inaction of the forces of evil, make for suspense I’ve rarely experienced. So my dear Michael, in spite of the fact that we didn’t get along too well, I do think you have made a very fine picture, and what’s more, I liked what you gave me to do.’

Some forty-three years later then, “Witchfinder General” may well not be anywhere near as bloody as the latest instalment of whatever torture porn opus is currently in vogue, but its unsettling juxtaposition of breath-taking scenery and human cruelty and its refusal to offer any simple reassurances with its bleak and shattering final scenes, continue to make it a memorable and emotionally jangling watch: Price’s evil -- fundamentally unfathomable, yet all too believably human -- is remorselessly engaging and the fate of the innocents Richard Marshall and Sara Lowes all too convincingly real thanks to the performances of Ogilvy and Dwyer. The magnificent look of the film had always been somewhat short-changed until the MGM-released Midnite Movies DVD from a few years ago, but this High Definition transfer for the UK’s Oden Entertainment label is a whole new ball game. Okay, the print is by no means pristine: there are nicks and speckles here and there upon occasion (mostly near the beginning) and sometimes there is noticeable colour variance, with a few scenes seeming much darker than others. But all in all this is a pretty amazing release. The colours are rich, deep and textured and the detail that is now evident is often astonishing. John Coquillon’s photography and the amazing depth of field which defines many of the film’s evocative landscape shots often looks, frankly, quite astonishing here, even though I’ve seen this film countless times before -- every brier and bramble is rendered with a magnificent level of rich detail. Costumes and sets are equally textured and finely detailed and the viewer comes away feeling like he/she is seeing the film for the first time with an entirely fresh pair of eyes: always a good sign when assessing these HD transfers of very well-known films. The mono audio is robust, powerful and noise free, everything one could wish it to be.

In addition to a fine new high-definition transfer, Odeon Entertainment have put together a fine package of relevant extras which are well worth seeing. The main attraction is a brand new commentary track by Michael Reeves’ biographer Benjamin Halligan and filmmaker and Reeves’ friend Michael Armstrong. As many viewers will know, Armstrong directed “Mark of the Devil” -- one of only a few films from the period that dealt with historical witchcraft trials and the barbarity they unleashed. Armstrong’s film was set in central Europe and was much more explicit in character (it is still censored in Britain even today). Most of this commentary revolves around Armstrong’s memories of Reeves’ state of mind during and just after the making of “Witchfinder General”, since that is when Armstrong briefly got to know him, as he died soon afterwards. There’s also an interesting discussion about the personal nature of the film and how Reeves’ approach to the subject matter differed from Armstrong’s own, and how this in turn was a reflection of their very different personalities. It’s inevitably a contentious and very opinionated commentary, with Halligan mainly serving as host for Armstrong’s strident musings while dropping in the occasional anecdote from the shot, mainly concerning Vincent Price. Halligan’s few attempts to take the conversation down more of an analytical route meet with short shrift from the non-nonsense filmmaker though.

“The Blood Beast: The Films of Michael Reeves” is actually an episode of Eurotika -- the 1999 late-night Channel Four series which regularly featured items on Italian Giallo cinema or Euro-smut ,and played host to the likes Jess Franco or Jean Rollin. This episode is devoted to a potted biography of Reeves as told by his friends and surviving associates. It covers his amateur 8 mm filmmaking efforts starring his friend Ian Ogilvy and his trip to Hollywood at the age of 17, where he sought out his hero Don Siegel and ended up working for him before being taken on by producer Patrick Curtis. As well as Ogilvy and Hilary Dwyer, Tony Tensor, head of Tigon is interviewed and authors and critics pop up to access the films, notably author Ian Sinclair and the ubiquitous Kim Newman.

“Bloody Crimes: Witchcraft” is a 24 minute historical documentary which take grizzly delight in recounting tales from England’s bloody past stretching back into Tudor times. There’s a detailed account of the kinds of occult beliefs that would have been accepted in the late 16th Century, a feverish re-telling of the story of Matthew Hopkins and his many crimes in the 1640s, and a reconstruction of a trial from the 1650s, when the ravings of a mentally ill person could be accepted as evidence of devilry. It’s an entertaining, rather partisan romp through the more macabre details of British history, enlivened with lots of location footage.

“Vincent Price on Aspel & Company” is a ten minute clip from a 1980s chat show in which Price appears as a guest. The host, TV presenter Michael Aspel looks both bored and smug at the same time and the whole thing is only enlivened when Price acidly remarks how he’s been waiting throughout the interview to be asked an intelligent question!  

“Intrusion: Michael Reeves short film” is a rare ten minute short from Michael Reeves’ early student days. Shot in 1961, it’s a rather blurry video dupe and is pretty hard to make much sense of, but it does feature a suspense film scenario about a woman who is menaced in her own home by two leather jacketed heavies, one of whom is played by Reeves himself. The film is silent, but is included with the option to be able to watch it with an audio commentary by Benjamin Halligan and Michael Armstrong that provides it with at least some context -- although it appears that some of the shots may have been jumbled, leading to a somewhat confused narrative. A title card at the beginning dedicates the film, with typical student earnestness, Jean-Luc Goddard.

The alternate scenes from the export version (which really are ridiculous in their strained attempts to cram nudity into the film) are included, as are the opening and closing credits for the US Conqueror Worm version with Vincent Price’s added narration. A theatrical trailer (“Never has England looked so beautiful but been so violent” intones the voice artist) and a gallery of stills round off what has to be one of the most essential Blu-ray releases of the year so far – and what’s more, it’s region free. Highly recommended.

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