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Michael Reeves

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Michael Reeves Known For

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). He died at the age of 25 from an accidental alcohol and barbiturate overdose.

Michael Reeves Early career

Reeves was born in Sutton, Surrey, and grew up in Suffolk, whose landscape made a deep impression on his best known film, Witchfinder General. His father died when he was young, but his mother was a devoted single parent. As a child he began making short films, some of which starred his lifelong friend, the actor Ian Ogilvy. As a boarder at Radley College he obsessively broke bounds to attend the cinema, and was utterly single-minded about his ambition to work in film.

Upon leaving school he turned up on the doorstep of his favourite director, Don Siegel, who promptly employed him as an assistant. Subsequently he worked in Italy, where he was assistant director for Castle of the Living Dead with Christopher Lee. While still in Italy, he directed his first feature film, The She Beast (1965; Italian title La Sorella di Satana or Il Lago di Satana), also called Revenge of the Blood Beast. Like Castle of the Living Dead, The She Beast was made very cheaply. It was remembered for an appearance by horror icon Barbara Steele, of whose time Reeves was given only four days. Back in London in 1966, Reeves made The Sorcerers, starring Boris Karloff, an effective ‘swinging London’ picture with supernatural overtones. Both films also starred Ian Ogilvy.

Michael Reeves citation needed

]. 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.

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.

Michael Reeves Death

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.

Michael Reeves Select filmography

TitleYearCredited asNotesRef(s)
DirectorScreenwriterOther
Castle of the Living Dead1964Yes2nd assistant director
The She Beast1966Yes
The Sorcerers1967YesYes
Witchfinder General1968YesYes

Michael Reeves Slated projects

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

Michael Reeves

  • Halligan, Benjamin (2003). Michael Reeves. Manchester University Press. ISBN 0719063515.
  • Michael Reeves biography Net worth, Details Reference

    • Michael Reeves on IMDb
    • BFI, Michael Reeves
    • BFI, Witchfinder General, review
    • Guardian Unlimited, Michael Reeves: Witchfinder General review




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