Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält [Mark of the Devil] (1970)

Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält
Director: Michael Armstrong, Adrian Hoven
Writer: Michael Armstrong, Adrian Hoven
Cast: Herbert Lom, Udo Kier, Olivera Katarina, Reggie Nalder, Herbert Fux, Johannes Buzalski, Michael Maien, Gaby Fuchs, Ingeborg Schöner, Adrian Hoven
Part of: /slash Filmfestival
Seen on: 29.9.2018

Christian von Meruh (Udo Kier) is the apprentice of witch hunter Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom). Christian believes in the cause and the justice of the process with all of his heart. After the tavern girl Vanessa (Olivera Katarina) is accused of witchcraft and he sees the virtriol and violence of the local witch hunter (Reggie Nalder), Christian does find that he has doubts after all.

I was surprised by Hexen bis aufs Blut gequält. I expected an exploitative, gory B-movie. But instead I got a political, critical and pretty serious film – which is an absolutely positive turn of events for me.

The film poster showing with a drawn women whose hair is made of fire, with stills from the film that mostly depict women in pain as a collage in front of the hair.

I’m weary when it comes to witch movies. More often than not, they are an excuse for sexist and/or misogynist exploitation. Not exactly something I’m going for in general, but that’s exactly what I thought this film would turn out to be. If it had been, I would have probably have hated it, so I’m glad it turned out my expectations were wrong.

Building from actual historical cases, the filmmakers here understood that the entire witch hunt was a political instrument to persecute and oppress and didn’t abuse that for a cheap excuse to show some tits. Instead – through the eyes of Christian (and Udo Kier’s eyes are a sight to behold anyway) – we are reminded of how incredibly outrageous that instrument is. And that we need to take a stand against systematic oppression, especially when it doesn’t affect us directly.

A young man (Udo Kier) sits at the table as an older man (Reggie Nalder) enters the room behind him.

The film isn’t perfect. It could have been a tad shorter, the romantic theme song did start to grate and annoy because it was overused and the credits – that may as well have been placed in a Heimatfilm – seemed comically incongruous with the rest of the film. So the execution of the film could have been smoothed out here and there.

But overall, I was really taken with the political stance the film takes and with the effective way the film makes its point. Scarily, it feels absolutely relevant still, so that the film remains worth watching – and probably will for some time to come yet.

A young woman (Olivera Katarina) behind bars looking at an older man (Herbert Lom) with his back turned to her.

Summarizing: Very interesting.

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