Beyond Witchfinder General

The final blog on Michael Reeves focuses on a promising career that barely got started.

Witchfinder General (1968) became a massive critical and commercial success, and Michael Reeves looked set for a very lucrative film career. However the movie turned out to be a hard act to follow.

The large amount of praise directed towards Witchfinder General made Reeves uncomfortable. Nor was he happy at being labelled a horror director. Now under contract with American International Pictures, the studio wanted him to make further horror and exploitation flicks.

Reeve’s personal life also fell apart. Suffering from insomnia on top of his manic depression, his beautiful girlfriend, tired of his mood swings, walked out on him.

AIP assigned Reeves to direct De Sade (1968), but was forced to pull out due to stress. Already under medication for anxiety, his increasing mental health problems led to violent tantrums.

Reeves was set to direct Vincent Price in The Oblong Box (1969). Since their collaboration on Witchfinder General, both men patched up their differences, but during pre-production on the new film, their relationship broke down once more to such an extent that Price would only communicate with Reeves in writing.

It is unsure how much involvement Reeves had in The Oblong Box. He allegedly directed a few scenes before being replaced by Gordon Hessler although it was likely he pulled out during pre-production. His final months were spent in private hospitals where money grabbing doctors prescribed him with more pills than his body can cope with.

On 11th February 1969, Michael Reeves was found dead by his housekeeper at his London flat. He had taken an overdose of barbiturates mixed with alcohol. The circumstances surrounding his death were mysterious, but despite a previous attempt at suicide, the verdict was recorded as open. He was 25 years old.

Had Reeves lives, he may have achieved Hollywood success. But then being pigeonholed into the horror genre, he might have stagnated under the treadmill of routine fodder. His outspoken views might have equally harmed his career.

One thing is certain; the film world lost an amazing talent.

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