Witchfinder Weekender | Exploring the Suffolk film locations

On the weekend of the 21 and 22 of April, I hosted a trip to Suffolk in East Anglia for two days of exploring the original film locations used in the 1968 British cinema classic Witchfinder General, starring Vincent Price as  the eponymous Matthew Hopkins.

Blessed with the best weather of the year, our 15-seater van which we dubbed the Mystery Machine ambled through Lavenham, Kersey, Bury St Edmunds, Thetford, Orford, Dunwich and Manningtree, with a few other people joining us on their own steam over two days.

My heartfelt thanks goes out to Selene for taking the reigns of the Mystery Machine and to Graham Humphreys for the fantastic poster that he produced, and got signed by the film’s second big star, Ian Ogilvy, which attendees received on Sunday afternoon over some well-earned pints in Manningtree, at the very location where the real Matthew Hopkins conducted some of his evil deeds.

Witchfinder General_Graham Humphreys_Poster

Here’s a snapshot of the film locations that we covered.

Witchfinder General_Kersey

KERSEY
This quaint little village was the setting for the film’s opening sequence in which a woman is led through a side street to a field where she is lynched, while Vincent’s Matthew Hopkins looks on from a distance.

Over the years, trees have grown to obscure St Mary’s church which appears the opening title credits. The pathway where the villages drag the woman lies next to the former home of thriller writer Hammond Innes.

Witchfinder General_Kersey

Witchfinder General_Kersey

Witchfinder General_Kersey

RUSHFORD
The former Rushford College and St John’s Church in this quiet backwater proved the ideal location to double as John Lowes’ Brandeston church.

The scenes shot at the College (now a private residence… which we inadvertently trespassed) included Hopkins and his assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell) setting Lowes to running and pricking, and Sara (Hilary Dwyer) trying to secure her uncle’s freedom by giving herself to Hopkins; while the church was used for a scene in which Richard (Ogilvy) swears his oath of revenge over Sara’s rape at the hands of Stearne.

Witchfinder General_Rushford

Witchfinder General_RushfordWitchfinder General_Rushford

Witchfinder General_Rushford

Witchfinder General_RushfordWitchfinder General_Rushford

LONG MELFORD
The 15th-century Kentwell Hall doubled as the magistrate’s house where John Lowes’ trial by water and hanging took place. Visiting the stately manor also gave us an opportunity to recreate  recreate the infamous publicity shot of Vincent and director Michael Reeves, in which their difficult relations during the shoot is quite visible in their body language.

Witchfinder General_Kentwell Hall
This picture is courtesy of Stuart Carroll

Witchfinder General_Kentwell HallWitchfinder General_Kentwell HallWitchfinder General_Kentwell Hall

Witchfinder General_Kentwell Hall

IXWORTH
While many of the riding sequences were filmed on military ground which has restricted access today, one scene involved Richard and his platoon meeting with Oliver Cromwell (Patrick Wymark). This took place at Ixworth Mill, which today is a self-catering B&B. It is also situated not to far from Great Livermere, the childhood home of the ghost writer MR James.

Witchfinder General_IxworthWitchfinder General_Ixworth

LAVENHAM
The medieval town was used for a number of key sequences in the film, including when Hopkins oversees the burning of Elizabeth (Maggie Kimberly) in the town square where Sara lodges, and where Hopkins resides in a local pub. Another key scene takes place in a nearby Water Street, where Stearne informs Hopkins of Richard’s desire for revenge.

Guildhall, Market Place, Lavenham
Witchfinder General_LavenhamWitchfinder General_LavenhamWitchfinder General_LavenhamWitchfinder General_LavenhamWitchfinder General_LavenhamWitchfinder General_LavenhamWitchfinder General_Lavenham Little Hall, Lavenham
This building doubled as the rooming houses for both Sara and Hopkins. We were very excited to find that little has changed in the room used for Hopkins’ bedroom, but we also discovered that while the outside of the building was used for Sara looking out a window, the interior was not. This was, in fact, a set constructed in an aircraft hangar in Thetford.

Witchfinder General_Little_HallWitcfinder General_Little HallWitcfinder General_Little Hall

Water Street, Lavenham
This street, around the corner from the Guildhall, is where Stearne runs to warn Hopkins and where Hopkins spies Sara across the road.

Witchfinder General_Water Street_LavenhamWitchfinder General_Water Street_Lavenham

Witchfinder General_Water Street_Lavenham
This photo is courtesy of Stuart Carroll

ORFORD CASTLE
The cellar of this 11th-century keep was used for the bloody climax in which Hopkins is shot by Nicky Henson’s Trooper and then hacked to death by a vengeful Richard. English Heritage are proud of its film legacy and even include it on their audio tour, with some Kensington gore thrown in for good measure.

Witchfinder General_Orford_Castle Witchfinder General_Orford_Castle Witchfinder General_Orford_Castle Witchfinder General_Orford_Castle Witchfinder General_Orford_Castle

DUNWICH
It was quite a trek (over an hour) to drive to the coast where the scenes of Richard and his platoon meeting a fisherman where shot. But on our arrival, we discovered we were in the wrong place. One of our group has now found the correct location, the Seven Sisters cliffs on the Sussex coast. So another outing is in the offing.

WIitchfinder General_Dunwich

BURY ST EDMUNDS
The Angel hotel in Bury St Edmunds is where the cast and crew stayed while filming. Vincent stayed in room 215, the Charles Dickens suite, which still contains the bed that the writer slept in. The bar is where he got drunk with Nicky Henson and the rest of the cast, and the kitchen is where he rustled up pasta for the crew.

The Angel_Bury St Edmunds

MANNINGTREE
The real Matthew Hopkins operated many of his dark deeds in Manningtree. So, on our return to London, we stopped off at The Red Lion, where, in 1644, eight local women were suspected of witchcraft and into the prison, which used to sit on the land to the right of the pub.

witchfinder_general-manningtree

Thanks for reading… If you fancy joining us for another tour in 2019… then please do sign up to the Vincent Price Legacy UK newsletter and join the Facebook page.

For more pictures about the Witchfinder Weekender, check out the dedicated Facebook Group page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/112107102984052/

 

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The Last Man on Earth | Touring the original Italian film locations in Rome

In the winter of 1961-1962, Vincent Price starred in the first cinematic adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, re-titled The Last Man on Earth. Although ostensibly set in Los Angeles, the film was actually shot in Rome, Italy, making effective, atmospheric use of the Immortal City’s unique business and residential district, EUR.

This area was originally conceived as the Esposizione Universale Roma, Benito Mussolini’s grand plan to celebrate 20 years of fascism for the 1942 World’s Fair. But it remained unfinished due to the Second World War, and was finally completed in time for the 1960 Olympics in Rome.

The austere new buildings that rose up became symbols of a new wave of Italian rationalism inspired by ancient Roman Imperial town planning; with the most iconic being Marcello Piacentini’s travertine-marble clad Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana (or Square Colosseum). Today it’s the HQ for the Fendi fashion label, and has featured in quite a few films, but The Last Man on Earth was the first to use the location, followed by Federico Fellini’s Boccaccio 70 segment Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio in 1962.

On a recent visit to Rome, I decided to start tracking down the original locations used in the film, and I was surprised to find quite of few. Some, however, remain elusive owing to the passage of time. But here are the ones I have found – so far.

The film begins with the sun rising over an unidentified suburb in Rome, with vista shots of the Tiber, deserted streets littered with corpses, tower blocks and a freeway overpass (to link it to LA obviously), a petrol station, supermarket and a Community Church displaying a sign The End Has Come.

The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth

This is Santi Pietro e Paolo a Via Ostiense in Piazzale dei Santi Pietro e Paolo 8 in EUR, which was completed in 1955 and was intended to be Mussolini’s mausoleum, but is now where Cardinal Priests are appointed. In my Now shot, my travel companions were quite willing to play ‘dead’ while the odd churchgoer passed by.

The camera then pans on a bungalow where Price’s eponymous Last Man, Robert Morgan resides. Now,  I’m unsure whether this was a set or not, but scenes of Morgan driving towards the entrance reveals an incline and a wood or forest in the distance, so the jury is out on that one.

The Last Man on EarthWhile heading to dispose of his latest ‘victims’, Morgan passes Santi Pietro e Paolo a Via Ostiense and a couple of tower blocks, and ends up on the outskirts of Rome where the burning plague pit is situated.

The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on EarthAfter picking up some chilled garlic at a modern (1950s style) supermarket, Morgan tracks stakes some more sleeping vampires. A montage reveals a new housing development, an amusement park (most probably the same one that appears in 1966’s Dr Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs) and a large sporting arena.

The Last Man on EarthThe Last Man on EarthThe Last Man on Earth

This Then/Now shot shows the Palazzo Dello Sport, which was completed in 1960 for the Summer Olympics in Rome, and is today known as PalaLottomatica, the home of the Vitus Roma basketball team.

Morgan then falls asleep while visiting his wife’s mausoleum, a modernist building at a cemetery under construction, where he finds himself fighting off a band of vampires. This another location I have yet to find.

The Last Man on EarthThe Last Man on EarthThe Last Man on EarthFlashbacks reveal Morgan’s family life (which takes place in a villa with a terraced garden) and his work at the Mercer Institute of Chemical Research (an unidentified 1930s office building lined with columns), while army trucks drive through EUR’s wide streets.

The Last Man on EarthThe Last Man on EarthBack in the present, Morgan gives chase to a black dog, heading down the street from his home, over a verge (where the same two columns we see at the beginning of the film can be seen), and onto the steps of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana.

At the four corners of the podium of the iconic Square Colosseum are placed four equestrian sculptural groups by Publio Morbiducci and Alberto de Felci, representing the Dioscuri, the two mythical Greek heroes, sons of Zeus and Leda. Other films shot here include Peter Greenaway’s Belly of an Architect (1987), Hudson Hawke (1991) and Titus (1999) with Anthony Hopkins.

Here’s a fun pic of myself beside one of the statues that grace the podium, with Vincent’s Morgan in situ.
Fusing elements from the original film with what the Square Colosseum looks like today. It’s now the HQ for the Fendi fashion label.

Morgan then runs across a road flanked by a colonnade. This can be found beside the Santi Pietro e Paolo a Via Ostiense.

The next sequence features another iconic EUR structure, Il Fungo, which is situated on a hill across the road from the Palazzo Dello Sport.

This Piezometric water tower was completed in 1960 and continues to supply water to the EUR gardens today. In 1961, tenor Mario del Monaco turned the top of the tower into an exclusive restaurant (although it probably wasn’t open at the crack of dawn when Price filmed his scene). Il Fungo was also used in the opening scenes of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse in 1962.

Here’s Vincent in front of Il Fungo today. Note that the street lights are the same ones that you see in the film.

Following shots of a street featuring a statue similar to the ones adorning the Square Colosseum, Morgan finds three vampires staked at a clearing. This is a hill bearing two rows of trees and some white building in the distance. Here, Morgan encounters Ruth who proves his undoing.

In the final eight minutes, Morgan tries to evade capture by the new order of human/vampire hybrids by taking refuge in a unidentified building before being cornered and killed on the altar of a church.

The Last Man on Earth

The film’s climax takes place at the modernist-designed St Pius X Catholic Church via Attlilio Friggeri 87 in Trionfale, Balduina, which was built in 1961. Apart from some recent modernisation, and the installation of the pipe organ (in 1969), the interior has hardly nchanged.

I’m currently putting together a video of my film location finds, but until that’s completed, I shall leave you with one last montage.

Our final picture fuses Vincent’s big death scene with what the altar looks like today.

The Last Man on Earth

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Expedition to the Dr Phibes Rises Again desert locations

While on a visit to Malaga over Christmas, I took a 2-hr drive north to Almeria to check out the Fort Bravo cinema studios where films such as Valdez is Coming, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Patton and The Hunting Party were shot. Just 10-minutes away, however, there’s also a location that was used to stand in for the Egyptian desert in 1972’s Dr Phibes Rises Again.

Was I excited about finally tracking this down after all these years? Hell yeah! It was the best Christmas present ever, and I found them in the Rambla del Buho – right next to each other (X: 552275 Y: 4100774).

Dr Phibes Rises Again in TabernasThe first is the small hill where Vincent Price’s Phibes and Valli Kemp’s Vulnavia dine on the local fish and quaff champagne in a tent. It appears in a comic scene in which Phibes almost chokes on a fish bone. Despite the ‘Keep Off’ signs, I couldn’t help but take a climb to the exact spot where the tent was pitched (can you spot me in the pic below?).

Dr Phibes Rises Again in Tabernas

The second, featuring a very noticeable rock fomation, marks the entrance to the ancient temple hidden in the mountain where Phibes discovers the River of Life.

Dr Phibes Rises Again in TabernasThe film shows Phibes and Vulnavia heading towards the promotory. Unfortunately, the advancing years has seen some major rock and sand shifts, which made climbing it a little risky – and I couldn’t quite get to the exact position. But hey! It was still cool to be here.

Dr Phibes Rises Again in Tabernas

This location also appears in Indian Jones and the Last Crusade in which Harrison Ford, riding on horseback, picks up a rock to render a tank useless.

Dr Phibes Rises Again in Tabernas

Dr Phibes Rises Again in Tabernas

Dr Phibes Rises Again in Tabernas

Another scene that took place in this area involved John Thaw’s Shavers climbing towards the entrance just before his grisly death at the claws of an eagle. This was a bit hard to track down exactly, but I’m sort of close in the above pic).

But you see what it looks like in these now and then shots coutesy of the Western Locations Spain website (www.moon-city-garbage.agency), which was a great help in starting out on my expedition.

Dr Phibes Rises Again in Tabernas

Dr Phibes Rises Again in Tabernas

Finally, the Biederbeck campsite (which Phibes spies on) is also located in the region, between the main highway heading to Tabernas and just before Mini Oasis Hollywood. However, in my excitement at finding the Phibes mountain, I completely forgot to visit it.

Dr Phibes Rises Again in Tabernas

Dr Phibes Rises Again in TabernasBut I did score an informative book called Almeria in Film which has so many great locations that pop up in classics like Valley of the Gwangi that I’m now planning on returning soon in order to fill in the gaps – and also to find out where the sand dune shots were filmed (which feature in the scenes in which Gerald Sim’s Hackett encounters the Clockwork men).

almeria in film

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Witchfinder General Film Locations Weekender

Myself and a group of friends will be exploring the Witchfinder General Film Locations Tour over the weekend of 21-22 April 2018.

Apologies to those who registered their interest but didn’t get a seat in our van, but we only had room for 15 – and it was first come, first served.

However, If you have your own transport and want to sort out your own accommodation, you are more than welcome to join us.

If you have any enquires contact Peter at: tours@thesoundofvincentprice.com

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Checking out the Dr Phibes crypt at Highgate Cemetery

Last weekend I took a much-belated return visit to London’s Highgate cemetery to hunt down the locations used in THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES. Here’s what I found….

Dr Phibes at Highgate Cemetery

Believing Phibes still alive after the bizarre deaths of four doctors, Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Dr Vesalius (Joseph Cotton) head to Highgate’s West Cemetery to check out the Phibes mausoleum.

We first see them entering the famed Egyptian gateway inside the East Cemetery, where John Franklyn’s graveyard attendant has some choice words about worms.

The next shot is taken from St Michael’s Church overlooking the Circle of Lebanon above the catacombs. Here we see Vesalius and Trout heading towards the Egyptian Avenue entrance with the graveyard attendant. Logically, they should be coming the other way – but it does makes for a better shot.

Dr Phibes at Highgate CemeteryDr Phibes at Highgate CemeteryVesalius and Trout are then led by the graveyard attendant down a path beside the Egyptian Avenue, before heading down into the Avenue itself (although we don’t actually see that).

Dr Phibes at Highgate CemeteryDr Phibes at Highgate CemeteryDr Phibes at Highgate CemeteryDr Phibes at Highgate CemeteryFollowing a brief sequence in which the ‘fashionable’ Vulnavia presents Phibes with some flowers, we return to Highgate for a brief shot of the graveyard attendant letting Vesalius and Trout into the Phibes crypt.

Dr Phibes at Highgate CemeteryNow this was bugger to locate as a prop entrance masks the actual tomb that was used. However, I did notice that the crypt of singer Mabel Batten, which also has poet/author Radclyffe Hall interred there, has the same curved architrave that you can see on the tomb beside the Phibes crypt (check it out in the top left hand corner of the picture above), so it could very well be the one on its immediate left. Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph that particular tomb – so I will just have to return to Highgate very soon.

Dr Phibes at Highgate Cemetery

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