Otakar Vávra's Witchhammer, co-written by Ester Krumbachová (Daisies,Fruit of Paradise) from Václav Kaplický’s 1963 novel, chronicles the series of notorious 17th Century Czech witch trials, undertaken using the infamous ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ (the ‘Witchhammer’ of the title), the Catholic treatise on witchcraft which endorses the extermination of witches and developed a detailed legal and theological theory for this purpose. Using genuine court transcripts from the forced confessions of those accused of sorcery and collusion with the Devil, it is a powerful and often shocking allegory of life under totalitarian rule.
With echoes of Bergman and František Vláčil, and with literary antecedents in Arthur’s Miller’s The Crucibleand Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon, it is a disturbing political fable; and like Ken Russell's controversial, expressionistic adaptation of Huxley’s text, The Devils (1971) and other films of the period such as Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General (1968) and Michael Armstrong's Mark of the Devil (1970), it serves as both grim genre film and compelling historical drama.
"Made with relentless precision, rhythm and logic… beautifully staged in CinemaScope with stylish photography by Josef Illík and a compelling score by Jiří Srnka"
- Peter Hames
"Its generic qualities recall the perfectly-executed excesses of Witchfinder General... A humanist horror film and an indisputable work of art"
- Senses of Cinema
"Shocking and provocative, Witchhammeris another excellent Czech film from the period"
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