14 April 2018

SECOND RUN FILMS PRESENTS: WITCHHAMMER. (1969) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




WITCHHAMMER. (1969) DIRECTED BY OTAKAR VAVRA. ADAPTED FROM THE NOVEL BY VACLAV KAPLICKY. STARRING ELO ROMANCIK, VLADIMIR SMERAL AND SONA VALENTOVA. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

'The womb of woman is the gateway to Hell. Through woman, sin came into the world. Woman is sin.'

This is a magnificent and chilling film about witchcraft and witch-hunting, as good a witch-hunting film as any you might have seen before. Did you know that the 'WITCH-HAMMER' or 'THE HAMMER OF WITCHES' is an actual book, published in 1486 by a priest and self-styled inquisitor called Heinrich Kramer? I didn't know this myself and was fascinated by it.

This evil book set itself up as 'The Hammer Of Witches which destroyeth witches and their heresy as with a two-edged sword.' Here's how the book is explained in the little booklet which comes with the film: '(It) insisted on the existence of witches and sought to educate inquisitors on the best way to identify and stamp out the plague of satanic evil infecting Early Modern Europe.'

Furthermore, the tome 'became the most famous of all witch-hunting manuals thanks to its detailed descriptions of witchcraft and the various black arts practised by the servants of the devil, which the book assumes to be predominantly women, thanks to their innate tendency towards sin...'

The book goes on to say that 'no-one who reads the histories can doubt that there have always been witches, and that by their evil works much harm has been done to men, animals and the fruits of the earth, and that Incubus and Succubus devils have always existed.'

That's enough about the book for now, except to say that I wonder where the original copy is kept, if it still exists, and is it held under lock and key as a dangerous tome that can only be consulted in the presence of a disapproving librarian?

I've always want to march into a library run by the Church and demand to see a forbidden ancient book, the Grimoire of So-And-So, the way Richard Widmark does in Hammer's TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER. Just for the pleasure of causing a stir amongst those starchy old churchmen, lol. Tell me what to do with my ovaries, will you? Humph.

Anyway, this fantastic Czech film, shot in a stark black-and-white, is set in a tiny Czech village in the 1600s. A witch-hunter called Boblig is called out of retirement to come and deal with a supposed outbreak of witchcraft and devil-worshipping in the village.

Boblig is a hideous character, the stuff of nightmares, the very model, not of a modern major-general but of the vilest, greediest, most lust-filled monster you can imagine. He's perfect for this awful job that no normal person would apply for, in other words...!

The witchcraft rumours stem from when an ancient, toothless old crone is caught sneaking a bit of Communion wafer to give to a sick cow who's stopped giving milk. Clearly, this is an act of superstition and also of desperation, given how the peasants of the village are all starving, and not an act of witchcraft at all, but no, the noblewoman who's the village's leading citizen calls in the witch-hunter.

Once that genie is out of the bottle, he can't be squished back in for the best part of two decades. He cuts a devastating and deadly swathe through the village, killing up to one hundred people, mostly women, during the terrible time that he's in situ.

His modus operandi never changes. The toothless old crones he orders arrested are subjected to the most horrific torture (as recommended by the book, the Witch-hammer) until they 'confess' to the most outrageous lies, as scripted by Boblig and his minions.

The 'confessions,' all obviously complete and utter bullshit, tell of 'feasting, gorging with the
Devil, dancing and fornicating with other witches,' and all at a place in the village called Peter's Rock. It was clearly the place to be seen at in those days, lol. If you'd gone there with your little camera, you'd have garnered quite enough piccies for your Instagram feed to make you an instant success on social media.

If the poor old ladies have any trouble remembering Boblig's idiotic scripts when they're hauled before the witch-hunter to officially 'confess,' well, the thumbscrews or a little something called 'the Spanish Boot' can help to serve as a little reminder. Then the 'witches' beg the 'kindly' Boblig for their own well-deserved death by burning at the stake. The whole thing is sickeningly barbaric.

The ironic thing about the old crones' forced confessing to 'gorging with Satan' (sounds like a possible title for a bad cookery show, doesn't it?) is that they are all starving to death in the dungeons while Boblig and his cronies feast like Vikings at the Countess's lavish table. There are repeated scenes of such feasting throughout the film.

They enjoy the best of everything- food, drink, even women- while they are staying in the village conducting their murderous 'inquiries.' You can see, can't you, how they'd be in no hurry to wind up their sickly show-trials and leave the village?

They confiscate the accused person's property and use it to pay the expenses for the bullshit 'trials' they run. The impoverished women who are put to death by the evil Boblig don't have a penny to their names, but there are richer pickings available in the form of the occasional male merchant or shopkeeper.

How easily this system can be abused is obvious in the film. Fancy getting your sweaty mitts on a share of someone's property or life-savings? Easy-peasy. Simply accuse him or her of witchcraft and Bob's your Uncle. (Remember 'I accuse Goody Flanders!' Homer Simpson, THE SIMPSONS.) What's theirs, or at least a part of it, can be yours.

The main characters in the film, apart from the disgusting, lecherous Boblig, are a kindly, decent priest and his housekeeper. No, not Father Ted and Mrs. Doyle but a Father Lautner and his stunningly beautiful young brunette servant Zuzana, with whom he has had a physical relationship. Priest or no priest, one could hardly blame him, such is her loveliness. And she wasn't being exploited, by the way, as she loves him too.

In scenes of sickening brutality, first Zuzana and then Father Lautner are tortured and made to confess that they too have 'gorged and danced with the Devil and fornicated at Peter's Rock.' Jaysis. That place must have been a hive of feckin' activity back then.

The viewers know that the priest and his servant are no more guilty of practising witchcraft than Donald Trump is of practising subtlety, but it doesn't matter what we think. The die is cast and the pyres are already being constructed. You can practically smell the sizzling flesh...

The film is apparently a political metaphor for the Czech peoples' being hugely oppressed by the communist regime of the time, but I prefer to look at it as an exposé of the appalling treatment meted out to women by these so-called witch-hunters. Women were not the threat to society they were deemed to be. The real enemies were the power-hungry lusts of men.

These men may have also feared women. After all, what other living creature bleeds for five days a month but doesn't die? The witch-hunts were a means of controlling women and putting them firmly in their place. Be thankful that we live in a more enlightened age...

WITCHHAMMER, complete with some excellent extra features, is available to buy now from SECOND RUN FILMS.



AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com








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