Vincent Price often played his screen roles with gleeful malevolence that bordered on -- or more accurately, minced right into -- campiness. That was what the directors believed the people wanted, and Price was happy to give everybody what they wanted. Director Michael Reeves, however, desired understated menace from Price in Witchfinder General, a period piece about the sadistic Matthew Hopkins, killer of witches in seventeenth-century England. At first reluctant to do so, Price eventually concurred with the young director and delivered a chilling performance that shocked audiences that maybe expected something a little more comic from a Vincent Price film. Hopkins is an austere and intelligent man of faith who just happens to display a talent for wringing confessions out of people by means both gory and depraved, and yet there is something noble in his character. Its a brilliant portrayal of evil tinged with nobility -- Price himself considered the character as his finest onscreen performance. Witchfinder General screens at 7 p.m. at Brown Hall on the Washington University campus (Forsyth and Skinker boulevards) as part of the ongoing Vincentennial celebration. Admission is free, and the full schedule of films and other Vincent Price-themed events is available at www.vincentennial.com.
Thu., May 26, 2011