Monday, 7 October 2013

5 Witch Hunter Movies

**Please note that there may be spoilers throughout the blog**

  During the middle ages, it was tough being a witch.  What was tougher was not being a witch but having some douche bag Witch hunter accuse you of being a witch because you were old and ugly, you were a young and pretty, the church wanted your land or some other reason that you pissed someone off in your village and they thought you were a real bitch, I mean witch.  The only way to prove that you weren't a witch was to die by drowning or by some other inhumane of torture.  And if you somehow survived the torture, then it meant that you were a witch and you had to be either burned at the stake or hung until you were dead.  Good times. 
  During the course of the middle ages, I've read that over 8 million men, women and children were killed for being a witch or warlock.  That number may be a little high but I'm sure there were many that were many people wronley burned, hanged or were killed while being tortured because someone in the church or  politician wasn't getting their due.  So, this one is for them, the falsely accused and films about the evil witch finder.

Here are 5 Witch Hunter films:

5. Twins of Evil (1971) - In 19th century Europe, Gustav Weil likes to go out at night, hang out with his puritan friends in "The Brotherhood" and find women to call witches and burn them.  Fun guy.  Unfortunately, he's now been saddled with twin teen nieces, Freida and Mary, that have just moved from Venice to Karnstein and appear to not hold the Lord in the same esteem that he does. But then again nobody does.
  After the first day of their arrival, Freida is fed up with her uncle's sternness and decides that she is going to run away and live with Count Karnstein because her uncle has forbade it and everyone in town thinks he's so wicked.  So, one evening she leaves, after her uncle has gone on another "Witch Hunt" and Mary chooses to stay to cover for her sister in case he comes home.  When she arrives at Count Karnstein's castle, she has dinner with Count Karnstein, his lady friend, Gerta and his manager/friend Dietrich.  As the night wears on, Dietrich leaves and Count Karnstein decides to make Freida a vampire, but she has to kill Gerta and which she does no questions asked.  Now Freida's a vampire, her uncle's murdering helpless women and Mary's getting the whippings for Freida's behavior, can anything stop the madness?
  This film is a stretch for this blog subject but there aren't that many films that I can find that demonstrate evil witch hunters.  Anyway, Peter Cushing (I, Dracula, The Vampire Lovers) brillantly plays Gustav Weil, who with his "Brotherhood" chases women down for no other reason than they live alone and refuse to get married.  This "Brotherhood" is despised for their murders, just as much as Count Karnstein by the town and neither are held accountable because of their ties to either the church or the government.
  The film eventually turns into a loose vampire tale that is the third and last entry in Hammer's Karnstein series.  This was also the last film for Collinson twins (Groupie Twins, The Love Machine) who portray Frieda and Mary, to perform together but their voices didn't make the cut and  were dubbed over.  Something reminded me of the film "Vampire Circus" when I was watching this and thought it may have been Damien Thomas (Pirates, Never Let Me Go) who plays the Count but it was actually the castle sets that were "borrowed" for the film.  The script is ok but you can tell director John Hough (The Legend of Hell House, Escape from Witch Mountain) is having a tricky time bringing both angles of this film together, which he eventually does with an ending that should be satisfying.  For this blog article, I wish the focus was more on the evils of witch hunting but it was a fun film that shows the darker side of religious men.

4. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922) - Benjamin Christensen puts together an amazing documentary on the history of Withccraft in four parts.  In the first part, he uses pictures, paintings and woodcuts to examine how demons and devils may have been created to explain nature and how people thought the solar system worked during those earlier times.  In the second part, he demonstrates medieval superstition and beliefs using short vignettes. Here he shows the devil tempting women, witches selling love spells to people and chasing monks around.  In the third section, they show how the church retaliated against these "witches" by using tools and lies to make them confess to preposterous notions.  In the last section, Christensen takes a comparative look at today, being 1922, and how some people with a  mental or social illness, like sleep walking or kleptomania could have been considered under a devil's spell or witches in earlier times.
  This is the first film that I've repeated but I feel it necessary to recommend it in this list context.  This is an incredible silent film that was quite before it's time.  Christensen researched this project for two years after finding a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum in a bookstore and created a truly defining film on medieval witchcraft.  The cinematography is excellent and so far ahead of it's time that directors like Jacques Tourneur, used his methods in some of his films.  Also, the make up work on the devils and creatures is awesome and far better than some that you see nearly 100 years later.  There isn't a lot of blood or killing but it is a sad but fascinating piece of horror history that can be enjoyed by everybody.

3. Mark of the Devil (1970) - Set in the 18th century, local witch hunter, Albino is pissed that Lord Cumberland is coming to take over and handle all the witch hunting activities.  So, the tries to rape a barmaid, while at work in a back room but she escapes and when he accuses her of being a witch, she is protected by none other than Count Christian von Meruh, who happens to be Lord Cumberland's assistant and live in friend.  Christian tells Albino to get lost and leave the girl alone, then invites the girl to his place for dinner.
  The next morning, she leaves and just in time too because Lord Cumberland has arrived, so it's time to torture and kill some witches.  After a while though, all the torture and burning of people, Christian isn't feeling this whole witch hunt thang anymore but he does notice some other unholy things going on in Lord Cumberland's house.  Like one witch has land that the church wants but he won't sell it to them, also a family is brought in and locked up for having puppets and then he watches Lord Cumberland strangle someone for calling in impotent.  That's not very Christian is it, Christian?  Finally, his bar wench girlfriend, who he has fallen in love with has been imprisoned again for witchcraft.  Now that Christian sees the hypocrisy in what he and Lord Cumberland are doing, can he save himself, his girl and maybe the rest of the town or is he destined to be sentenced and burned like so many others.
  I like that this film was "Rated V for Violent", as well as the being called by Hallmark Releasing Corp, "Positively the most horrifying film ever made" and the audience were given sick bags. I wish I had one, as a souvenir.  The movie is pretty violent and there are a number of good torture scenes in this film but I wouldn't say it's the worst I've seen.  The story is terrific and I really enjoyed watching Udo Kier's (Suspira, Spermula) character, Christian realize what they were doing was wrong and turn against his mentor(?) and live in companion, Lord Cumberland, played brilliantly by Herbert Lom (Asylum, Count Dracula).  There are some slow spots but it's pretty solid through out.  The ending is good and stays true to the story but it is a little disappointing at the same time.  Still this is a great movie, if your looking for some medieval torture scenes and seeing how bad witch finders can get.  

2. Black Death (2010) - It's 1348 and the bubonic plague is running rampant everywhere! A young monk, Osmund sends his lady friend, Averill away and promises to meet her in the forest in a fortnight.  She leaves and Osmund is torn between the vows that he made to God and his cock, so he prays to God and asks for an answer.  The next day, that was fast, a group of soldiers sent by the bishop need a guide, which happens to be Osmund's old stomping ground and he volunteers to lead them.  This group lead by Ulrich has heard of a village that has been untouched by the plague and the church believes that it may be the cause of witchcraft and the devil.  So, instead of finding out what their secret is, Ulrich and his men are to capture this witch, bring him or her back and to the bishop to be killed.  Good thinking.
  On the way, Osmund stops to save a poor woman from being burned because the town thinks that she is a witch.  Ulrich stops the burning, then murders the woman anyway and warns Osmund not to stop again.  The next morning, Osmund leaves the camp to find his true love, Averill in the forest and finds that her horse has been killed and some bloody clothes.  He assumes that she is dead and becomes quite depressed.  He leads, Ulrich's team to the village and they find that the village has dodged the plague and they begin asking questions of their new tour guide, Hob about how this has happened.  Hob avoids their questions and invites them to dinner at the hall, which they agree to.  Before dinner, the say grace to a stunned hall of non Christians and then the festivities commence.  As the Ulrich and his men drink, Osmund is asked to come outside, by a beautiful medicine woman, Langiva, who brings the young monk to a small ceremony.  She leaves him to watch and performs a ritual that brings his one true love, Averill back from the "dead".  Shocked he runs back to the village to warn his friends but it's too late, Ulrich and his men have been drugged and Osmund gets knocked the fuck out.  When Osmund wakes up, he and his men are now the towns prisoners and they are ready to hang them.  Looks like the shoe is on the other foot.  Can Osmund and his friends escape this witchery or are the doomed to the same torture they inflict on so many others.
  This is a fantastic film with so many good twists and turns.  Sean Bean (Goldeneye, Silent Hill) gives an outstanding performance as Ulrich, the head witch hunter.  He is complemented by a very strong supporting cast with Eddie Redmayne (Hick, My Week with Marilyn) as Osmund, Tim McInnerny (Black Adder, Severance) as Hob and John Lynch (Alien Hunter, Night Wolf), who plays Ulrich's right hand man.  This is a great script with another character, Osmund who doesn't know where his beliefs lie and sees both sides on his travel.  There are some terrific medieval fight scenes and plenty of gruesome deaths for any gorehounds.  The ending is quite enjoyable and unforgettable.  This is great up to date, "Game of Thrones" type of witch hunt that shouldn't be missed.

1. Witchfinder General (aka The Conquer Worm) (1968) - During the English Civil War in 1645,  Richard Marshall has taken leave of this troop to visit his true love, Sara.  She lives with her uncle the village priest John Lowes and when Richard arrives he asks Lowes if he can wed his niece.  Lowes agrees to it but only if Richard can marry her soon and get her out of Brandeston.  He has heard that there is some troubling tales and wants her to be out of harm's way.  Richard agrees and they tell Sara the good news.  She is ecstatic and after supper, her and Richard have sex!  That's how excited she was.  Anyway the next day, Richard tells her that she's been great and heads back to his platoon.  On the way, he runs into Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne and they're looking for directions to Brandeston.  Richard points them in the right direction and goes on his merry way.
  Unfortunately, Matthew Hopkins is a witch finder and he and his assistant John Stearne have come to Brandeston to find a witch or witches, one of them being Sara's uncle John Lowes! Dun Dun Dun!  So Stearne starts to rough Lowes up into confessing and Hopkins starts giving Sara a look over.  He tells her that if she answers some of his questions this evening, things might go easier for her uncle.  Reluctantly, she agrees and after her uncle has been imprisoned and Stearne is at the having after dinner drinks at the pub, Hopkins goes back to Sara's house to "interrogate" her.  The next day, the guard at the jail is told not to torture Lowes any longer.  Stearne finds this odd and starts keeping tabs on Hopkins and notices that he leaves that night to do some more "interrogating" with Sara.  The following morning, Hopkins leaves the village to run an errand and Stearne filled with jealousy and lust goes to Sara's home.  However, Sara refuses, so Stearne rapes her.  Hopkins returns and Stearne tells him about his tryst with Sara.  This enrages Hopkins and Lowes and the other witches are executed the next day.  Hopkins and Stearne get their money and leave to the next town.
  Meanwhile, Richard hears that his uncle-in-law has been executed and rushes back to the Brandeston to find out about Sara. He finds her and she tells him what happened.  Richard marries her immediately and vows to get revenge on Hopkins and Stearne!  Can Richard find these two "witch hunters" and exact his revenge or will he fall pray to their trap and be judged a witch himself?    
  This is a great film and one of my favourite Vincent Price movies of all time.  Price (Laura, The Fly) plays Hopkins, who wasn't director Michael Reeves (The Sorcerers, She-Beast) first choice because of the campier work that Price had done with American International Pictures. However, Price plays the character, dead serious and puts on one of his best performances ever.  Ian Ogilvy (Death Becomes Her, Puppet Master 5) is also great as Richard, who was an old friend of Reeves and starred in his two earlier films.
  This is a bit of a slow burner as well.  There is a few good torture scenes and some witch burnings but nothing to excessive.  I think Price is real reason to watch this.  His character is so methodical and evil, that it's mesmerizing.  Excellent script, loosely based on a real the real witch hunting duo and fortunately this film has a much better and deserving ending than the real Matthew Hopkins.  Great film and a must see for any fans of witches, warlocks and that ilk. 

These films show another dark chapter in the history of superstition and religion.  Like the crusades, the inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials, which the methods of finding, trying and executing witches were based from Matthew Hopkins book are sad reminders that even the church is fallible.  Fortunately, those days are past and with the aid of science we save some folks from the accusations of witchcraft and maybe keep some people from being burned.

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