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SYFY WIRE obituary

Witchfinder General star Hilary Heath dies of coronavirus complications

By Josh Grossberg
Hilary Heath WItchfinder General

Hilary Heath, the actress who co-starred with Vincent Price in the 1968 British-American cult horror hit Witchfinder General and also appeared on TV in The Avengers and Space:1999, has died of complications due to the coronavirus.

She was 74.

Heath's godson, Alex Williams, broke the sad news on Facebook, saying she had passed away last week.

We lost my wonderful Godmother Hilary Heath to Covid-19 last week. Hilary had many careers, starting out as a screen and...

Posted by Alex Williams on Wednesday, April 8, 2020

"We lost my wonderful Godmother Hilary Heath to Covid-19 last week," Williams wrote. "Hilary had many careers, starting out as a screen and stage actress in the 1960s and 1970s, and then re-inventing herself as a producer in the 1990s, making films like Nil by Mouth (Gary Oldman) and An Awfully Big Adventure (Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman)."

At the age of 23, Heath made her feature acting debut in Michael Reeves' creepy historical horror flick Witchfinder General, which fictionalized in rather brutal fashion the witch-hunting exploits of 17th-century Englishman Matthew Hopkins, played by horror icon Vincent Price.

Hopkins earned the nickname "Witchfinder General" for executing hundreds of people who he alleged made a pact with the devil at the time of the English Civil War. Heath (né Dwyer), played Sara Lowes, the niece of the village priest who's accused of witchcraft. To save her uncle's life, she offers to trade sexual favors with Hopkins and is later raped, framed as a witch, tortured, and driven to the brink of madness.

Hilary Heath Witchfinder General. 2jpg

Torture porn before the term ever became fashionable, the historical film was not for the squeamish. In fact, its sadistic violence was so controversial upon its release in the U.K. that the British Board of Film Censors had parts removed.

The U.S. release didn't face censorship, but distributor AIP opted to change Witchfinder General's title to The Conqueror Worm in an effort to capitalize off of schlockmeister Roger Corman's successful Edgar Allan Poe-inspired series of B-movies. It worked, and the film did well at the box office, earning $1.5 million, but then slid into obscurity. In subsequent years, Witchfinder General has since developed a cult following and is now regularly praised as a grindhouse classic.

Heath meanwhile went on to roles in other notable films, including horror hits The Oblong Box (1969) and Cry of the Banshee (1970), both again starring Price; the British thriller The File of the Golden Goose (1969); and a not-so-successful adaptation of Wuthering Heights (1970) opposite Timothy Dalton.

Heath's TV credits include parts on such seminal British shows as The Avengers and The Prisoner, as well as an appearances on Z Cars and Special Branch. Her final onscreen performance was in 1976, on Space: 1999, after which she became a producer.

Among the notable films she produced were An Awfully Big Adventure, starring Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman, and Nil by Mouth, with Gary Oldman.

Heath is survived by her ex-husband Duncan Heath, whom she married in 1974 before divorcing in 1989, and two children, Laura and Daniel.

(via The Hollywood Reporter)