Witchhammer, 1970 - ★★★½

Witchhammer, 1970 - ★★★½


“The womb of the woman is the gateway to hell.”

- Monk (Václav Lohniský)

Hra ze dvou polovin! In order to purge her estate of a sudden bout of witchcraft, a countess orders the service of a famed witch inquisitor named Boblig. He sets about exposing, torturing then crucifying suspected witches. A lone Dean questions the morality of Boblig's methods to drastic results.

Otakar Vávra's 1970 Czechoslovakian historical drama bordering on horror 'Kladivo na čarodějnice' aka 'Witchhammer' or 'Witches' Hammer', is artistically filmed in glorious B&W and supposedly based on accounts of Czech witch trials around the 1600's. For the first 30 minutes Vavra succeeds in building the dark drama and weaving folklore & religious symbolism into his film. At this point its easily on a par & possibly even better than Michael Reeves 'Witchfinder General' (which was the earlier film by a few years, I've not caught the obscure '57 version of 'The Crucible' so not sure how that holds up).

Sadly after Boblig's first truly shocking hillside witch BBQ, the movie steadily runs out of its unique artsy approach drops its meticulous detail, then descends into boring melodrama. Then the final 30mins drifts into what can only be described as a very Lucio Fulci 'Beatrice Cenci' styled torturous climax. Vladimír Smeral who plays Boblig is no match for Vincent Price as Mathew Hopkins. I'm not sure if it was down to his lack of charisma or just plain bad characterization but hes just such a dull central protagonist. His understudy played by Josef Kemr would have been far better for the role (he oozed vile). Having only heard of it tonight I can't say it let me down all that much. I'll agree if it had continued its vibe from the opening 3rd and built on those early metaphors it would have deserved the insanely generous 5's on lboxd or 8.1 on imdb. Its still a very good movie as it is and one I'm glad to have finally caught up with, though I doubt its one I'll remember for long.

[Personal Reasons For Remembering]

Toothless hag torture. A spiked chair that wouldn't look out of place in a cenebite Ikea. Sona Valentová as Susanne had brilliant screen presence, sadly she wasn't in it enough (I'll have to see what else her & Kemr have been in). Ohh and the dreary Monk who rambled satanic guff as if he was a nightshift DJ.

Originally taken from Letterboxd

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