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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Witchhammer aka "Kladivo na carodejnice" [Blu-ray]

 

(Otakar Vávra, 1970)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Filmové studio Barrandov

Video: Second Run

 

Disc:

Region: FREE (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:46:43.291 

Disc Size: 32,700,861,837 bytes

Feature Size: 27,109,398,528 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.78 Mbps

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: November 13th, 2017

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080P / 24 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio Czech 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English, none

 

Extras:

New and exclusive filmed appreciation by writer and film historian Kat Ellinger (22:16)
Otakar Vávra's short film The Light Penetrates the Dark (Svetlo proniká tmou, 1931) (4:41)
Booklet featuring a new essay by writer and film critic Samm Deighana

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: 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 Miller's The Crucible and 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.

 

Second Run are delighted to produce the World Premiere on Blu-ray.

 

 

The Film:

The film doesn't shy away from the brutal methods used to extract confessions but also skillfully explores some of the mores of its period. This was a time of piety in which sex was perceived as immoral, yet young daughters were readily married off to rich older noblemen. In a provocative opening scene we watch a number of the girls frolicking as they bathe in a way which almost taunts us in our complicity. If desire is wrong then where does that evil originate? In their beauty or our own lustful thoughts?

Excerpt fromAllSightReserved located HERE

The Witch’s Hammer” takes its title from the 15th century Malleus Maleficarum, a handbook for witch-hunting inquisitors that set scant limitations on the use of pain and trickery for extracting confessions. The work is not mentioned by name in the film, but it makes two cameos. At one point it shows up as “the only book I need” on the desk of Boblig, the self-serving anti-intellectual judge who orchestrates a spiral of accusations, trials and stake-burnings. It casts a more chilling shadow in the form of an unconventional narration by a mad-eyed monk, who reads lurid passages about witch rituals while staring directly into the camera and not otherwise commenting upon the actual story events.

Our hero is Lautner (Elo Romancik), a good man well-versed in legal practice whose honesty and courage stands in great contrast to Boblig, a greedy conniving hypocrite who instantly recognizes a chance to snatch power and never lets go. The performances are top notch all around, but the various voices of reason tend to be less interesting than the petty villains. I think Vavra intentionally defuses any hope for heroism or righteousness to prevail by leaving us with the stolid, common-sensical Lautner. His unwilling to bend makes the search for his breaking point all the more excruciating.

Excerpt from FilmWalrus located HERE

Coming from a country rich in experimental, absurdist, surrealist-tinged and fantastical cinema, the Czech film Witches’ Hammer is a surprisingly formalist and unambiguous comment on life under a totalitarian regime. Based on actual transcripts of Moravia’s witch-trials during the period 1667-1695, and using the same allegorical language as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon, the message is as subtle as a two-foot bodkin to the inner thigh: positioning religion as a state-bound brand of delirium and control.

Excerpt fromMondoStumpo located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Witchhammer gets an impressive transfer to Blu-ray from Second Run. It's in dual-layered territory with a max'ed out bitrate. Witchhammer is an absolute visual treat and the 1080P supports the 2.35:1 film with consistent contrast exhibiting a detailed, rich, textured image. It may have a touch of green or sepia infiltration.  It's advertised as "presented from a new HD transfer from original materials by the Czech National Film Archive". There are some minor frame-specific marks and a few visible cue blips (see sample at bottom) but the overall Blu-ray presentation shows depth and is gorgeous. The HD visuals are immensely impressive.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visible Cue Blip

 

 

 

Audio :

The audio is transferred by Second Run in a linear PCM track at 2304 kbps (24-bit) in the original Czech language.  There are religious and period chanting in the background as well as fire and shrieks - all carrying depth, plus a score by Jirí Srnka - born in Písek, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary. Dialogue is very clear and there are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE!

 

Extras :

Second Run add a new and exclusive filmed appreciation by writer and film historian Kat Ellinger running over 22-minutes - she references the film as a dialogue heavy drama rich with metaphors far different from films like Witchfinder General, Rosemary's Baby, Cry of the Banshee and other 'witch-related' sub-genre work with themes of sex and rape although Witchhammer is considered more political also owing an allegiance to Dreyer's Day of Wrath. Her analysis is excellent and highly revealing. Excellent. Also included are Otakar Vávra's short film The Light Penetrates the Dark (Svetlo proniká tmou, 1931) running just under 5-minutes. It is cited as first work of the Czech experimental filmmaker when he was only twenty years of age. The package has a liner notes booklet featuring a new, substantial, essay by writer and film critic Samm Deighana.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Witchhammer is a deeply-layered, pagan witch-hunt and political allegory. Sona Valentová really has a Mila Kunis-thing go'in on, too. The Second Run Blu-ray provides an excellent a/v presentation with very appreciated supplements. I was so impressed with Witchhammer and the analysis by Kat Ellinger's visual essay and Samm Deighana's text enhances further appreciation. We congratulate Second Run on this Region FREE Blu-ray release - this is brilliant and may be my favorite package from them yet! - which is saying a lot! Our highest recommendation. 

Gary Tooze

November 11th, 2017

 

 




 

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