Michael Reeves

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Michael Reeves (17 October 1943 – 11 February 1969) was an English film director and screenwriter. He is best known for the 1968 film Witchfinder General (known in the US as Conqueror Worm). A few months after the film's release he died in London at the age of 25 from an accidental alcohol and barbiturate overdose.[1]

History[edit]

Witchfinder General[edit]

It is for his third and final movie, Witchfinder General, that Reeves is best remembered. He was only 24 years old when he co-wrote and directed it.[2][3] In 2005, Total Film magazine named Witchfinder General the 15th-greatest horror film of all time.[4] Made on a very modest budget in East Anglia and adapted from the novel by Ronald Bassett, Witchfinder General tells the story of Matthew Hopkins, the infamous lawyer-turned-witchhunter who blackmails and murders his way across the countryside. Reeves imbues the film with a powerful sense of the impossibility of behaving morally in a society whose conventions have broken down, and though it is by no means free of the conventions of low-budget horror, it stands as a notably powerful and evocative film.[5]

Reeves wanted Donald Pleasence to play the title role, but American International Pictures, the film's co-financiers, insisted on using their resident horror star Vincent Price instead. This caused friction between the veteran actor and the young director. A famous story is told of how Reeves won Price's respect: Reeves was constantly telling Price to tone down his over-acting, and to play the role more seriously. Price eventually cracked, snapping, "Young man, I have made eighty-four films. What have you done?" Reeves replied: "I've made three good ones."

Reeves continued to goad Price into delivering a vicious and brilliant performance, and only upon seeing the finished film did the actor realise what the director was up to, at which point Price took steps to bury the hatchet with Reeves. Witchfinder General was released to mixed reviews, with one notably savage notice by Alan Bennett appearing in The Listener, but was soon reassessed and gained generally favourable reviews.

Death[edit]

Michael Reeves died in London a few months after the film's release. After shooting Witchfinder General he was at work on an adaptation of The Oblong Box but had difficulties getting projects off the ground and was suffering from depression and insomnia, for which he took tablets and received a variety of treatments from medical and psychiatric practitioners. On the morning of 11 February 1969, Reeves was found dead in his bedroom, aged 25, in Cadogan Place, Knightsbridge, by his cleaning lady. The coroner's report stated that Reeves's death (from a barbiturate overdose) was accidental, the dosage being too marginal to suggest intention.

Select filmography[edit]

Title Year Credited as Notes Ref(s)
Director Screenwriter Other
Castle of the Living Dead 1964 Yes 2nd assistant director [6]
The She Beast 1966 Yes [7][8]
The Sorcerers 1967 Yes Yes [9][10]
Witchfinder General 1968 Yes Yes [10][11]

Slated projects[edit]

Some films Reeves was apparently scheduled to direct or for which he was being considered were The Buttercup Chain and De Sade.[12] Both of these films were completed with other directors.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ British film directors: a critical guide By Robert Shail. Southern Illinois University Press. p. 176
  2. ^ "Matthew Hopkins - Witchfinder General | 1968". Britishhorrorfilms.co.uk. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  3. ^ Showtimes Sat, Oct 26th at 6:30pm Wed, Oct 30th at 8:30pm. "Witchfinder General". siskelfilmcenter.org. Archived from the original on 31 May 2014. Retrieved 31 May 2014.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "Shock Horror! Total Film Proudly Hails The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time". Total Film. Archived from the original on 18 July 2006. Retrieved 23 July 2006.
  5. ^ Turnour, Quentin (21 April 2004). "Witchfinder General".
  6. ^ Curti 2015, p. 114.
  7. ^ Halligan 2003, p. 49.
  8. ^ "The She-Beast". American Film Institute. 20 February 2020. Archived from the original on 2 April 2014.
  9. ^ Halligan 2003, p. 89.
  10. ^ a b Halligan 2003, p. 230.
  11. ^ Scovell, Adam (18 May 2018). "The terror of the old ways: 50 years of Witchfinder General". British Film Institute. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  12. ^ David Pirie, A New Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema, I.B. Tauris, 2008.

References[edit]

  • Curti, Roberto (2015). Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969. McFarland. ISBN 978-1476619897.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Halligan, Benjamin (2003). Michael Reeves. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719063515.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

External links[edit]