Written by Kat Ellinger
Directed by Dima Ballin
Regular listeners to the Britflicks.com #5GreatBritishHorrorFilms podcast series will know what high regard WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968) is held. It’s a genuine masterpiece of the genre form, by Michael Reeves, a promising director born in Sutton, Surrey. It was his third feature film, but just twelve months after it was released he was dead, aged just 25, from an accidental overdose of pills he was taking to curb his depression and insomnia. However, the impact was such that 50 years later, a documentary has been made that takes a peek into his tragically short life and literal obsession with cinema.
The title of the documentary has a double meaning because it is also about the audience’s obsession with Michael Reeves. Featuring talking heads of those who were there with him from the start and film fans and historians who contextualise the importance of his work then and the legacy that lives on today in modern genre. Ian Ogilvy, friend of Reeves, and star of all three of his feature films is perhaps the most candid of the contributors about the man himself. Much like screenwriter of THE SORCERERS (1967) and WITCHFINDER GENERAL and key collaborator Tom Baker. These two lend the documentary the authority needed to tell the story of the man behind the story of a legendary filmmaker with so few films to reference – they knew him and it builds a picture of who he was outside of the films we can watch. There’s a lovely anecdote about how a visit to family in Boston, Massachusetts led the over enthusiastic teenage Reeves to travels across the States to LA and doorstep his idol Don Segall.
THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION OF MICHAEL REEVES is a deserved and much needed reminder of a Great British filmmaker...
Ultimately, like anyone who died so young, the look back on Reeves life and work is a huge what if he hadn’t died question. However, maybe the true horror is that the depression that plagued this talented man and contributed to him losing his life, is as prescient to men’s woes in 2019 - suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales - as it is to the story of a young filmmaker who barely got going, but is fondly remembered. THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION OF MICHAEL REEVES is a deserved and much needed reminder of a Great British filmmaker who died far too young to truly deliver on his promise.