An excerpt from the booklet essay by Samm Deighan

Published in 1486 by priest and self-styled inquisitor Heinrich Kramer, the ‘Malleus Maleficarum, Maleficas, & earum hæresim, ut phramea potentissima conterens’ - better known as ‘The Hammer of Witches which destroyeth Witches and their heresy as with a two-edged sword’ - 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. Though inspired by earlier works like Johannes Nider’s ‘Formicarius’, the ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ became the most famous of all witch hunting manuals thanks to its detailed descriptions of witchcraft and the various black arts practiced by the servants of the Devil, which the book assumes to be predominantly women, thanks to their innate tendency toward sin. Kramer wrote, ‘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.’

These sentiments were brought to life on screen in 1969 in Otakar Vávra’s Witchhammer (Kladivo na čarodějnice), which opens with the declaration that it is based on ‘authentic court recordings of Inquisition trials which took place in Velké Losiny and Šumperk from 1678 to 1695.’ This grim political allegory follows the hysteria of a small Czech village as a woman is caught stealing a piece of the eucharist to feed to a sick cow, an accusation which transforms into a full-blown inquisition seemingly overnight. Boblig (Vladimír Šmeral), an inquisitor brought out of retirement to spearhead the campaign, focuses primarily on women: first old, poor women, but later young and pretty girls, exorcising his own greed and lust for power in their helpless flesh through torture and execution.

Historical witch hunting is primarily associated with countries in Western Europe, such as Spain and France, but was spread throughout Europe, England, and the New World from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries with increasing fervour. It was particularly prevalent in the areas governed by the so-called Holy Roman Empire: Germany, Austria, the Benelux countries, and Switzerland, as well as Czech and Slovak lands. Ignorance, paranoia, and superstition fuelled the fires of the Inquisition, which loosely began with the slaughter of a French religious sect known as the Cathars in the thirteenth century and culminated in the widespread witch hunts of the sixteenth century that resulted in the deaths of more than 30,000 people - though the victims were predominantly women.

In the seminal Witchcraft in the Middle Ages, historian Jeffrey Burton Russell writes of the sexual component to persecution: ‘Though demons could act at will as either incubi or succubi, ritual coupling was usually ascribed to women rather than to men. [...] Abelard blamed Eloise for leading him into ruin through carnal temptation, as Eve had led Adam and as women have led men since the beginning of the world. The Malleus Maleficarum of the fifteenth century considered women particularly susceptible to demonic temptation through their manifold weaknesses. This tradition was responsible for placing the chief blame for witchcraft upon women.’

The Northern Moravian trials, or Boblig witch trials (as the character is inspired by a real man, Jindřich František Boblig z Edelstadtu), on which Witchhammer and its source novel of the same name by Václav Kaplický is based, were no different. Throughout the 1600s, largely as a reaction to the anti-Protestant counter-reformation in Moravia and Bohemia (the present day Czech Republic), women were targeted, tortured, and forced to confess their alleged diabolical activity and then accuse friends and neighbors of the same. The specific trials in question lasted nearly two decades, as Inquisitor Boblig cast his net wider and turned his attention towards anyone who opposed his reign of terror. Between 1678 and 1696, dozens, perhaps almost a hundred people, were burned to death.


Samm Deighan's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Czechoslovakia, 1969
Length / Feature
(Blu-ray/24fps): 107 minutes
(DVD/25fps): 103 minutes
Blu-ray Special features: 26 mins
DVD Special features: 25 mins
Blu-Ray: 2.0 Dual Mono LPCM (48k/24-bit)
DVD: 2.0 Dolby Dual Mono
Original aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Language: Czech
Suntitles: English

Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps / Region ABC
DVD: PAL / DVD9 / Region 0

Blu-Ray: £19.99
DVD: £12.99
Release Date: 30 Oct 2017


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