IF you are looking to combine horror with history this Halloween then the Essex Records Office is just the ticket.

To coincide with Halloween, the ERO in Chelmsford will be screening the 1968 cult horror classic Witchfinder General starring Vincent Price, followed by a talk about the real history of witchcraft in Essex.

The event will take place on Friday October 26 from 6.30pm-9.00pm and the talk will be given by bestselling novelist Syd Moore.

The Witchfinder General is set in East Anglia in 1645, and stars Price as the notorious self-appointed ‘Witchfinder General’ Matthew Hopkins, who claimed to have been given the right by parliament to interrogate and execute witches.

The plot is a fictionalised account of Hopkins’s bloody exploits, and follows him and his assistant John Stearne (Robert Russell) as they visit village after village, torturing and executing suspected witches.

Interior scenes for the movie were shot in converted aircraft hangars near Bury St Edmunds, and exterior scenes were filmed on locations including the Dunwich coast, Lavenham, Kentwell Hall, and Orford Castle.

The film – made on a budget of £83,000 – is best known for its violence, despite being extensively cut by the British Board of Film Censors. It has divided audiences and critics alike, with some deploring its violent scenes, while others have championed it as an important part of British film history.

Witchfinder General was the third and final film directed by Michael Reeves. The English director and screenwriter apparently wanted Donald Pleasence to play the title role, however American financiers insisted on resident horror star Vincent Price playing the role of Hopkins.

The decision is said to have caused friction between the veteran actor and the young director –who was only 25 at the time.

A famous story is told of how Reeves eventually won Price’s respect when Price labasted him over his direction methods.

Price eventually cracked, snapping, “Young man, I have made eighty-four films. What have you done?” Reeves replied: “I’ve made three good ones.

Although the film has become a cult classic, it does use dramatic licence in many scenes – as visitors to the screening and talk will find out.

An Essex Records Office spokesman said; “While Hopkins did exist and did indeed hunt suspected witches, the film departs from real history in several ways.

“Hopkins was the son of a Suffolk minister. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but by the winter of 1644-5 he was living in Manningtree in Essex. He came to believe that there were seven or eight witches living in the town; these and others were arrested and questioned, with Hopkins giving evidence against them.

“This sparked a trail of accusations, and eventually 36 Essex women were tried for witchcraft at the Essex assizes in July 1645. Nineteen of them were executed. nine died in prison, and six were still locked up in 1648. What Hopkins had started in Essex spread to Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, with at least 250 people tried as witches, and at least 100 executed.”

“Hopkins did not meet the violent end that he does in the film, but according to a contemporary account died slowly of consumption (tuberculosis) at his home in Essex in 1647.”

Other problems in the plot were that Vincent Price was aged 56 at the time that he played Hopkins, but in reality Hopkins was only in his twenties when he instigated the East Anglian witch hunts.

The ERO adds: “The film’s biggest departure from reality, however, is its omission of court cases; in the film, Hopkins and Stearne subject their victims to summary executions, but in reality suspected witches were arrested and tried.”

Tickets for the evening cost £10 and mist be booked in advance via www.essexrecordoffice.co.uk/events

If you can’t make the talk you could always go on your own spooky walking trail around Hopkin’s own stomping ground of Manningtree.

There have been many reports of ghostly activity in Mistley, near Manningtree where Hopkins is said to have ducked witches in the village pond, according to local paranormal experts.

The local woods in Mistley are also said to be be haunted by the souls of ‘witches’ who escaped to the woods to seek refuge from Hopkins’s persecution.

It’s no surprise that so many women would have tried to flee from Hopkins . His methods of inquisition were not far removed from actual torture.

He pricked any skin deformity or ‘devil marks’ on the accused – such as skin moles – that he believed to be an extra teat for suckling imps.

Another method was to force the accused to walk about all night, for only when at rest could a witch summon his or her ‘familiars’, who would terrify the accusers away.

The most infamous test used by Hopkins was to fling the accused witch into the river, tied up, because a witch, ‘having denied his or her baptism, would in turn be repelled by the water so that he or she would float and not sink into it.’ In other words if they drowned they were innocent, if they floated they were guilty and would be condemned to death.

One of the most compelling examples of Hopkins’ torture methods was the case of an 80-year-old man from Suffolk known as ‘Pastor Lowes’.

He was deprived of sleep and forced to run continuously without stopping for several hours in a row. Finally, driven almost insensible, Lowes confessed to a barrage of charges – including using witchcraft to sink a ship off the coast of Ipswich.